If you were forced to give up one of your senses which would it be? Hearing? Touch? Spidey? It would be devastating to lose any of them obviously, especially the sixth, but I expect the most frightening would be the loss of sight. The idea of your world going slowly and irreversibly dark is terrifying, and while some films choose to view the subject of blindness as fodder for treacly drama or humorous action (At First Sight, Blind Fury) there have been a few that embrace the horror of it all. Audrey Hepburn’s Wait Until Dark is probably the best known blind-centric thriller, but for me few films beat the little-seen Afraid Of the Dark when it comes to milking the nightmarish premise for maximum chills.
But the new film produced by Guillermo Del Toro comes pretty damn close.
A blind woman stumbles through her home, staring in vain into the dark corners and pockets of shadows. She can’t see, but she believes someone is there. Her fear-filled journey ends in the basement where she climbs a stool, loops a noose around her neck, and pauses to speak to the figure her imagination and terror may only be concocting. Until that fear is confirmed by the intruder who rushes forward from the dark and kicks the stool out from beneath her feet. She swings in silence as a camera’s flashbulb illuminates the room…
Julia (Belén Rueda) comes to town with her husband, Isaac (Lluís Homar), to settle her sister’s affairs after an apparent suicide. Like her sister, Julia has a degenerative eye disease that is slowly causing her vision to fade. They’re meant to stay only a few days, but Julia begins to suspect someone is following her and soon believes her sister’s death may have actually been foul play. The stress begins to tear at her eyesight causing the virtual blinds to close quicker on what remains of her vision, but she continues to believe someone is after her. Her theories fall on deaf ears belonging to her husband and the police, but others in town have their own suspicions and secrets… and then Isaac disappears. With her husband gone and her sight close behind, Julia is forced to survive on her own while continuing to explore her fears. And now she suspects there’s someone hiding in the darkest corner of the room. Watching her. And waiting.
Julia’s Eyes is two-thirds terrifying and claustrophobic thriller and one-third clunky and clumsy wrap-up. That’s a damn shame because before the film starts to explain itself with ridiculous revelations it succeeds in making the viewer feel as trapped and afraid as Julia. We see through her POV as the circumference of her vision turns black and begins to worm its way towards the center. The peripheral is gone, and light becomes muted leaving every corner, every shadow, a possible hiding place.
It’s creepy as hell and beautifully shot to boot. Director/co-writer Guillem Morales wisely keeps things feeling just a little bit off kilter and produces some fantastic set pieces in the process. One finds Julia spying on a locker room filled with half-naked blind women, and any thought of arousal or titillation is tossed out the window when one of them detects a stranger in their midst and the group begins to encircle her. It’s unsettling to say the least. Other standouts include the way Morales’ camera follows a guide rope between blind neighbors and how Julia’s sister’s house become a character in the story too.
The film works best when its focus is on atmosphere and build-up, but it falters badly once it feels compelled to start answering questions. You’ll get no specific examples here as I’ve no interest in spoilers, but suffice to say the revelations are underwhelming and convenient. Still, two-thirds of an effectively frightening flick is better than most movies offer these days, and even if the resolution pales beside the setup this is still a film worth watching.