Blind Terror: Julia’s Eyes

Blind Terror: Julia’s Eyes

Static Mass Rating: 3/5
Optimum Releasing/Antena 3 Films 

Release date: May 20th 2011

Certificate (UK): 12A

Running time: 112 minutes

Director: Guillem Morales

Writers: Guillem Morales, Oriol Paulo
Producer: Guillermo del Toro

Cast: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar and Pablo Derqui

Official Movie Site

You may have done an experiment at school to illustrate the physiology of sight by making two marks a few inches apart on a page, covering one eye and focusing on the opposite mark. The other mysteriously vanishes. Ooh.

And what, I hear you ask, has this tawdry biological counterfeit got to do with the omniscient eye of cinema? Well, I reply, just how much does cinema see?

I would like to think I had a 360⁰ field of vision; and thanks to clever optical mechanisms to detect peripheral movement and a flexible neck, I can more or less sustain that useful illusion.

Julia's Eyes

But really we humans have to make do with 100⁰ horizontally, and vertically even less. Not very impressive, I think you’ll agree. But by contrast an ordinary camera lens, which has neither neck nor peripheral hints to mitigate its inadequacies, can only manage a derisible 40⁰-62⁰. Pah! A cataractic pirate could see more than that.

Even at its most extensive therefore the camera has a blind-spot of 298⁰ (it would surely be more reasonable to describe the visible field as a “sight-spot” given the disparity). By a ratio of 4.8 to 1, therefore, the camera is a machine which controls not what you see but what you cannot. This means that cinema is a fundamentally negative art, an art- silence please- of blindness.

In Guillermo del Toro’s latest production, the eponymous Julia is going blind. Her identical twin sister, Sara, who suffers from the same degenerative disease, has recently lost her sight altogether. It is rapidly followed by her remaining four senses as Julia, responding to a powerful intuition, finds her dead. The cops deduce from the noose, the overturned stool and the novelty of her permanent darkness that she departed willingly. But the obdurate Julia has other ideas.

Julia's Eyes

She believes, to the benevolent consternation of her husband, Isaac, that someone else was embroiled in her demise. And why, except to satisfy a murder mystery cliché and get the momentum going, does Julia refuse to accept the rational verdict? Because for her own sake she has to. The alternative- that Sara’s blindness was so intolerable she took her own life- is much more terrible because it foreshadows the hopeless outcome of her incipient illness.

But the creation of Julia’s psychological need begins to look increasingly real. She becomes the doubted detective figure, fighting the world’s cynicism with only the despairing audience (who know she’s right) on her side. Sudden loud noises and a jittery soundtrack set the nerves rattling as writer/director Guillem Morales riffs on the theme of sight and sightlessness with wit and panache.

Julia's Eyes

The human and cinematic visual limitations are brought to bear when Julia, mourning at the grave of her sister, responds to the consoling pressure of Isaac’s hand resting on her shoulder by glancing up, only to see him in the distance. In the time it takes her (and the camera) to reconcile the sight with the sensation, spin round and set eyes on the malefactor – he has disappeared.

With growing evidence she pursues a man seen with her sister before her death, a man so forgetfully ordinary that no one can describe him, an “invisible man”. With this the film throws out its thematic net to cover seeing as well as sight. Not only do we not notice what we don’t see: we sometimes fail to notice what we do.

Julia's Eyes

With del Toro at the reins I expected Julia’s Eyes to have supernatural undertones, and while it doesn’t, it nevertheless does channel the spectral atmosphere of ghostly cinema. Blindness is an excellent device for a “secular” horror film such as this because blindness to the visible is just like blindness to the invisible, i.e. the supernatural to which our vague earthly fears attach themselves.

With all these good ideas and more, it’s a pity that they’re threaded through a patchwork of cliché, droopy dialogue and some truly preposterous schmaltz. It looks slick- the lighting in particular should be commended- and the score is consistently excellent. There are plenty of heart-shaking frights too, but it suffers from predictability which the pace is too laboured to divert from. And why this otherwise passably accomplished horror flick thinks it should end with such maudlin dross is as beyond me as the abiding stars- subject of Julia’s wistful closing soliloquy- are beyond her.

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