Following both Pans Labyrinth and The Orphanage (although set in a slight more realistic milieu) Julia’s Eyes also features yet another powerful performance from an incredibly beautiful and sensual-looking actress, this time in the form of Belén Rueda. She plays the titular character whose twin sister seemingly commits suicide in the opening scenes. Both siblings suffer from a rare degenerate eye disease, which is attributed to the demise of Julia’s sister, although she believes there to be foul play at work and sets out to investigate the real cause.
As her own vision begins to fade, she struggles to retain her grasp on reality and if what she’s seeing is real or imagined, and even her supportive husband begins to doubt her claims of seeing a shadowy figure following her every move.
Julia’s Eyes may not offer much in the way of originality, but director Guillem Morales certainly knows how to craft and shoot a decent Hitchcockian murder mystery. A large part of the film’s success is derived from the young director’s insistence on not over-egging it when it comes to the visuals. Julia’s increasingly deteriorating POV is subtle and feels very organic. An American remake (there have been whispers of one already in the works) would probably be tempted to CGI-it up and use all swirly and trippy visuals, but Morales lets the action unfold using old-fashioned suspense tools like dramatic lighting and voyeuristic camera moves, and is able to wring much tension out of the scenes using these methods.
All this is very much designed to place the audience in the same vulnerable state as the heroine, and those techniques are further solidified in the latter half of the film, where the director uses a creatively bold and effective framing device, where one of the main character’s features are hidden from us for a sizable chuck of the narrative. The end showdown (which borrows a visual cue from The Silence of the Lambs and cranks it up to an abstract level) is very effective too.
What stops Julia’s Eyes from being a 4-star film and puts it slightly further down the ranks from those aforementioned examples of highly-accomplished Spanish fantasy cinemas, is a dénouement which begins to feel a little stretched and tiresome after the initial, shocking reveal. Also, although well-acted and suitably dramatic, the chain of events and incidents from mid-way are played out in such a compressed timescale that it’s a big ask for the audience who has invested their time into the film and its intriguing premise, to then accept large leaps and holes in character’s actions and logic.
There’s still much to recommend here however. Rueda gives it her all, and the more intimate scenes between Julia and her husband (played by veteran Spanish actor Lluís Homar) are very touching and offer a genuine glimpse of true love.
If you’re in the mood for some good old-fashioned, pulpy scares, Julia’s Eyes may just be what you’re looking for, but don’t forget to make sure you turn a blind eye to some of the contrived and improbable elements of the second half.