Director : David Moreau & Xavier Palud
Screenplay : Sebastian Gutierrez (based on the 2002 film written by Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui and the Pang Brothers)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Jessica Alba (Sydney Wells), Alessandro Nivola (Dr. Paul Faulkner), Parker Posey (Helen Wells), Rade Serbedzija (Simon McCullough), Fernanda Romero (Ana Christina Martinez), Rachel Ticotin (Rosa Martinez), Obba Babatundé (Dr. Haskins), Danny Mora (Miguel), Chloe Moretz (Alicia Millstone), Brett Haworth (Shadowman)
Coming on the tail end of Hollywood’s dwindling fascination with remaking Asian horror movies, The Eye is an Americanized replay of a 2002 Hong Kong chiller about a young woman whose corneal transplant restores her sight, but also brings with it otherworldly visions that weren’t part of the deal. Horror stories about possessed transplants are nothing new, and they run the gamut from the great (1935’s Mad Love, in which a pianist’s hands are replaced with those of a killer) to the awful (1993’s Body Parts), with all manner of silly exploitation fare in between (with such great titles as Night of the Bloody Transplant and The Incredible 2-Headed Transplant). The Eye falls somewhere in the middle. It’s not uniquely bad by any means, but it’s not particularly good either.
As Sydney Wells, the young musician who lost her sight as a child, Jessica Alba bases her performance around an underlying sweetness and innocence that is then tormented all to hell when her new eyes cause her to see things that don’t exist. She is almost immediately traumatized by images of dark figures, which (long after we have) she realizes are grim reapers leading the recently deceased into the afterlife (in Chinese mythology, these figures make sense, but here they are confusing because they seem like demons, thus suggesting that everyone is headed for a fiery eternity, even a poor little girl with cancer). In addition to seeing dead people and death itself, she is also hounded by nightmares and visions that she assumes come from the terrible memory of the person whose eyes she now has. And, while this cornucopia of trauma is neatly explained in the final reel, during the film it feels like the kitchen sink approach, with the filmmakers simply throwing in every horror device they can think of (ghosts! visions! demons! death! exploding ovens!) and hoping some of it sticks.
Directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud, whose only other credit is the well-regarded French/Romanian horror movie Ils (Them), are skillful enough in developing tension, and Sebastian Gutierrez’s new screenplay adds a few nice touches, like the relationship between Sydney and her older sister Helen (Parker Posey), who feels responsible for her sister’s blindness. Not enough is done with the relationship, though, which is also true of Sydney’s interactions with Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola), the eye specialist whose goal is to retrain her brain to deal with vision, but eventually becomes her friend and accomplice in solving the mystery of whose peepers are haunting her. Their relationship is so abruptly and awkwardly developed that it feels like several scenes wound up on the cutting room floor. And the word awkward doesn’t even begin to describe the film’s opening and closing voice-over narration, which is not only completely unnecessary from a narrative perspective, but lacks any conviction or emotion.
There are certainly moments in The Eye that work in a goose-bumpy kind of way, particularly a scene in which Sydney finds herself trapped in an elevator with a threatening apparition hovering behind her. At the same time, the film’s rote use of sudden scares in the middle of seemingly benign situations grows quickly tiresome, as does its reliance on old stand-bys like the creepy child. There is at least one genuinely shocking moment involving a mirror and a photograph that both marks a significant narrative turn and also reminds us of how reliant we are on believing what we see. If the film had dug deeper into the paradox of our need to believe in our vision despite its being so easily manipulated from within, The Eye might have been more than just a patchwork of horror clichés.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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