31 Days to Scare ~ Julia’s Eyes (Los ojos de Julia)

The Facts:

Synopsis: The story of a woman who is slowly losing her sight whilst trying to investigate the mysterious death of her twin sister.

Stars: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar, Pablo Derqui

Director: Guillem Morales

Rated: NR

Running Length: 118 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  OK…so I’ll admit.  I promised you 31 Days to Scare and so far a lot of my selections have been stinkers.  This is a case of me watching some films I’ve previously ignored…most for good reason.  Today I think I have a winner for you with another entry from Spain.  From the same director who gave us last week’s The Uninvited Guest, Julia’s Eyes is a slam-dunk of a thriller with style to spare.

Historically, mystery/horror movies about the blind have been above average in my book.  From the classic Wait Until Dark to lesser known entries like Blink and Jennifer 8, there are so many nerves to rattle along the way for anyone that’s been deprived of sight be it medically or atmospherically.  The heroine here is Julia (Rueda) and she‘s coping with the suicide of her blind twin sister and the continued gradual loss of her own sight.  As she delves deeper into the final days of her sister she begins to see that her sister very likely didn’t kill herself…but how to prove it when no one believes her?  And as her sight wanes, how can she hide when she can’t see the danger?

Director and screenwriter Morales has formulated a snazzy modern Hitchcock film that depends on its twists and turns as much as it does the strong performances of its leading characters.  It’s a bit more of a  straightforward thriller than superior movies like The Orphanage and Pan’s Labyrinth but that’s not to see it’s not quite well made on every level or a worthy companion to those films. 

With films that deal with blindness and darkness the easy way out is to keep the shadows high and the lights low.  While it does have several effective scenes tapping into the dark places just out of our vision, much of the terror comes from what we can see but Julia can’t.  At the same time, the movie throws a few curveballs to make the audience doubt what we saw as much as Julia does. 

I’ve seen movies like this before where the filmmakers go too far with diversion and then cheat to get out of it at the end – not so here.  The real test of a solid mystery is its re-watchability factor.  It can be hard to revisit a movie where you know the outcome and not be as fully invested the second time around.  I happened to watch this movie two times in as many weeks and the second time held up just as strong as the first.  In viewing it again I did notice moments where it’s evident what’s really going on and kept stealing glances at my companion to see if they were catching on as well.  Thankfully, they didn’t and could enjoy the mystery unfolding before them as much as I did in my first go ‘round. 

Without a strong presence in the double-duty lead role, I’m not entirely sure that the film would have been as good as it is.  Rueda is a stunning star and her work in The Orphanage and The Sea Inside have garnered her top honors in her native country.  She hasn’t quite made the leap to Hollywood but I can’t imagine it will take long for her to start popping up in high end films within the next few years.  In Julia’s Eyes she’s in nearly every frame and commands the screen at all times.  There’s a vulnerability to her at times that works in perfect harmony with an outwardly ice queen demeanor.  She sells the role because she believes in it, not because she’s getting paid to.

This is a film with more than its share of moments that will have you pulling your blanket up to your nose in fear.  Some may argue that Julia descends a flight of stairs into darkness/danger a few too many times but that didn’t register with me at all.  There’s payoff to each scene that keeps drawing you in as you grapple with the mystery at hand.

Morals and cinematographer Oscar Faura work wonders with their images, alternating between close-ups and long shots so that you are always aware of where you are and your surroundings.  Then if the lights go out or your vision is obscured you can still follow along with our terrorized star as she gathers the clues along the way.  Even at nearly two hours the movie doesn’t feel long and pulses with a nice rhythm thanks to smart editing by Joan Manel Vilaseca.   

Highly recommended for those that are looking for a classy thriller with its fair share of bumps in the night, Julia’s Eyes is a smart choice to have on hand for a dark and rainy night in October.  Have a nightlight handy because you may not look at the dark quite the same way after.  You never know what may be hiding just out of the light.