Since Guillermo Del Toro released The Devil’s Backbone at the turn of the century, Spanish-made films have become the driving force in well-crafted, intelligent horrors. As well as Del Toro’s army of protégés (including Guillem Morales, the director of Julia’s Eyes) other upcoming directors have been making waves, culminating in [•Rec], arguably one of the best horror films ever made. Julia’s Eyes isn’t that good, but it’s a worthy addition to this prestigious stable.
The film opens with the hanging of Julia’s twin sister Sara. It’s indicative of the film that within the first few minutes it can execute this scene powerfully without feeling gratuitous, and it provides a solid base for the rest of the film to build on. Sara and Julia (played by Belen Rueda from the Spanish chiller The Orphanage) both suffer from a progressive vision disorder which eventually results in blindness, and this mechanic adds a whole new layer to the cliché of a fear of the dark, moving the film from pure slasher into psychological territory as well. As the film progresses , Julia becomes more convinced that her sister did not commit suicide but was murdered, and there’s elements of a whodunit here as well.
The best thing about this film is the care with which it has been crafted. There’s a real sense of exploration and excited creativity going on behind the scenes, and some fantastic techniques are used. When Julia goes blind, the film stops showing the faces of the characters, adding to the feeling of paranoia that pervades the film. Similarly the final confrontation features a lighting mechanic that ramps up the tension and is at once reminiscent of the climax of Silence of the Lambs while also feeling entirely new. The psychological elements are played very effectively, to the extent that even at the close there is a moment where you are unsure if it isn’t all in her head.
The film is not without flaws; it is paced far too slowly. Although there are instances where this works in its favour and builds to a crescendo, too often it prevents the film from gaining any real momentum. It is a shame, as it feels like it could have been tightened with better editing.
Julia’s Eyes would serve as a great introduction to the new movement of Spanish horror. It’s not as scary as the Japanese variety or as pandering as American examples, but it is taut, intelligent and there are several flashes of the genius that so often feels missing from this genre. Go and see it while you can, before the inevitable Hollywood remake sours the memory.