TIFF 2010 Review: 'Julia's Eyes'


If a film has the name Guillermo Del Toro attached to it (producer, writer, director, whatever), I will make an immediate beeline to that movie. As a writer/director, he's treated us to modern classics like The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth (and who doesn't love the Hellboy movies?), and as a producer he's put his name and efforts behind titles like The Orphanage, Splice, and now Julia's Eyes, a comfortably old-fashioned horror/thriller that borrows a little bit from Wait Until Dark, but also forges some enjoyable new ground of its own.

The film starts out simple and gradually gets a lot more intense: a lonely blind woman hangs herself in her cellar, but when her sister and brother-in-law discover the tragic scene, it sparks a low-key but entirely engaging psychological thriller that deals with the loss of our senses, our loved ones, and (of course) our sanity. Julia, you see, is also suffering from the same degenerative eye disease as her late sister, which means she has frequent bouts of panic-stricken blindness. This makes her investigation -- which goes from creepy old ladies to the skeptical police to a locker room inhabited by a Greek chorus of blind ladies -- all the more difficult.

Director Guillem Morales (also co-screenwriter along with Oriol Paulo) keeps the mood and the setting very slyly old-fashioned, and even if the 117-minute film runs a bit longer than a tight thriller needs to, the screenplay is rather adept at keeping the plot twists coming at a rapid clip. At first Julia makes some real progress regarding her sister's mysterious death, but as things get weirder and more dangerous, it soon becomes clear that there was no suicide at all. This was a twisted and creative murder.

Even at its slower moments, Julia's Eyes is a classy and lovely horror film to look at. Morales clearly has his mind set on delivering deep shadows, subtle disturbances, and frankly lovely compositions. Plus there's no denying that Belen Rueda (also the star of The Orphanage) takes command of the film from her very first scene. She's a stunningly good actress. Lluis Homar is also a standout as Julia's devoted husband, which is good because one or both occupy virtually every scene in the movie.

While cleverly original in its own right, Julia's Eyes benefits by paying homage to classics like Wait Until Dark and The Silence of the Lambs, but on its own, it's simply a handsome, clever, and entirely engaging little throwback of a thriller. Once again, hats off to Senor Del Toro for not only noticing good, young talent when he sees it, but also acting as a producer-type patron for these great Spanish thrill-makers.