Director: Guillem Morales
Cast: Belén Rueda, Lluis Homar, Pablo Derqui
Run Time: 1 hour 58 minutes
MPAA Rating: N/A
Guillermo del Toro has a sterling reputation for Spanish-language horror, so any film with his name attached must be treated with appropriate reverence. Although he only produced 2010's Los Ojos de Julia (aka the supremely boring translation Julia's Eyes), the del Toro brand immediately puts the film under a great deal of pressure both as a horror film and an artistic work. Luckily for everyone, just about clears that overambitious bar.
Directed by Guillem Morales, the sprawling flick suffers without a firm directorial hand to guide it from start to finish, but the performances are riveting, the quiet horror hums with tension, and the visual schema is absolutely stunning.
A bit ironically, I suppose.
You see, Los Ojos de Julia is about blindness. For a card-carrying hypochondriac like myself, this might as well be Spider Clowns: The Movie for all the immediate fear this topic draws within me. So take this review with a slight grain of salt if you're a hale and hearty specimen who has never stared infirmity and mortality right in the face. I mean, not that I have, but when you have a six hour lighting class with only one bathroom break, you get pretty close.
Julia Levin (Belén Rueda) suffers from a degenerative disease that threatens to tear her vision away from her, especially during periods of high stress. After her estranged twin sister Sara (Belén Rueda in a terrible wig) loses her sight and apparently hangs herself, Julia is understandably distraught. Against the protestations of her husband Isaac (Lluís Homar), she investigates Sara's untimely death, using the last of her waning vision to uncover a series of clues that prove that all might not be as it seems.
Later on, she has an operation to replace her eyes, relying on helpful nurse Iván (Pablo Derqui) to guide her through her recovery. Plunged into a world of darkness (she can't allow any light to reach her eyes in the first couple weeks, lest she lose her sight permanently), she battles her own body for dominance while beginning to realize that a shadowy entity who preys on the blind might very well be coming for her.
Spoilers: It's the lamp.
The first part of the film is markedly stronger than the second - which begins to unravel rapidly during its final stages - but the vision horror that forms the spine of the disparate halves is universally magnetic. The entire film crackles with live-wire tension, coaxed out by its expertly precise cinematography.
Obviously cinema, being a visual medium, faces certain challenges when it comes to the depiction of blindness. But Los Ojos de Julia takes one look at that argument and laughs so hard it snorts milk out its nose. Using the camera to limit the range of vision, cinematographer Óscar Faura (who also shot The Orphanage and the Oscar-nominated Imitation Game) only exposes objects in the set as the characters come across them, forcing us to make the stumbling journey right alongside Julia as she struggles to make her way around. People's faces are also mostly kept out of frame, plunging the entire film into a mysterious shadowy netherworld where even the simplest of ideas - like the identity of a long-present character - are cast into doubt.
The film also uses light and shadow to its distinct advantage, creating entirely new environments within established sets by suddenly casting areas into perilous shadow. It's really an unparalleled cinematographic masterwork, dragging the audience headfirst into the blistering tension.
You never know what's just around the corner.
The story itself is secondary to the stunning aesthetic, but it's a largely engaging and ethereal mystery. It incorporates the quasi-mythological idea of shadow people into a Hollywood-style narrative, which is a very Guillermo-esque touch, but other than that it's mostly unexceptional. The final half hour screams to be cut almost entirely, introducing inexplicable new subplots to the detriment of the main throughline, but several episodes of nail-biting eye-trauma keep the film from sinking entirely.
All in all, its keen style makes Los Ojos de Julia worthy of rubbing shoulders with some of del Toro's Spanish works, but its story is too saggy to truly create anything more than a fun, tense murder mystery. That's adamantly not a bad thing, but this film could be a life-changing experience and only manages to be a memorable one. Oh well. Que será será.
TL;DR: Los Ojos de Julia is a stunning visual masterpiece, but features a story with too much bloat to be truly epic.
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