Ojos de Julia, Los (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★
During a neighborhood blackout, Sara (Belén Rueda) stood in the living room talking to someone but we couldn’t see who was there in the shadows. When lightning came, the corner that she seemed to be transfixed on revealed no person despite flashes of a polaroid camera directed toward her earlier on. As the camera focused on her face, we saw that she was blind. Attempting to escape her invisible tormentor, she ended up the basement. She climbed a stool, put a rope around her neck, and a second person knocked the stool from under her. Julia (also played by Rueda), Sara’s twin sister, felt a choking sensation while at her job in the observatory. She just knew something was wrong. Written by Guillem Morales and Oriol Paulo, “Los ojos de Julia” took inspiration from Terence Young’s “Wait Until Dark” and made it much more sinister. It was suspenseful because from the moment Julia suspected foul play, she felt compelled to gather clues that would prove her sister was murdered. It didn’t help that she shared her sister’s medical condition: extreme stressed diminished her eye sight. Ironically, the more knowledge she attained, the less she saw clearly, thus the less reliable her testimony. The best scenes were of Julia’s interactions with people who knew her deceased sister. For instance, when she visited a home for the blind, they smelled her presence… and of a man’s. But she came alone. She aggressively looked behind her and there was, in fact, a man watching her every move. Similar scenes worked in two ways. First, it served as a foreshadowing of what was eventually going to happen to the lead character. It should come to no surprise that she was going to lose her sight completely. If she was to survive, she needed to learn how to depend on her other senses and instinct. Secondly, it worked for the chase sequence that came right after the realization that she was being followed. We saw most of the action through Julia’s eyes. The majority of her peripheral vision was already gone so being forced into her perspective was awkward and claustrophobic. There was an effortless horror in it. What if the killer decided to attack from the side? She had no chance. Much to the dismay of her husband, Isaac (Lluís Homar), it seemed as though there was nothing he could do to stop Julia’s obsession. In here, the romance wasn’t utilized as currency to simply buy minutes until the next scary moment. What they had was tender and believable. I felt as respected as an audience because we really got to experience their history and what they meant to one another without necessarily using words. Their relationship held weight and it was, in a way, the picture’s emotional core though we weren’t always aware of it. The villain was truly monstrous. A hotel janitor (Joan Dalmau) described his motivation so perfectly, I almost began to feel bad for the silent stalker. Although we saw glimpses of him early on in the film, it wasn’t until much later that we observed his face dominating every inch of the camera. When he screamed at Julia without restraint, watching him through her eyes, it felt like such an invasion of my personal space, I wanted to push his face away for being so close. “Julia’s Eyes,” directed by Guillem Morales, skillfully placed us into Julia’s nightmarish experience without it being contrived. Other movies of its kind pale in comparison even under bright lights.
Wait Until Dark (1967)
★★★★ / ★★★★
“Wait Until Dark,” directed by Terence Young, immediately established how venomous Roat (Alan Arkin) could be. He was a calculating man. He liked to be assured that he already won the game before even sitting down. He lured two criminals (Richard Crenna and Jack Weston) in a blind woman’s apartment and framed them as the murderers of a woman (Samantha Jones) who used an unsuspecting doll as a mule to carry heroin from Canada to the United States. But nobody could find the doll. It was of great interest to Roat so he brilliantly set up several intertwining situations and disguises in order to trick Susy (Audrey Hepburn), the blind woman, to reveal the doll’s whereabouts. In truth, Susy had no idea where the doll was or why it was so important. The picture had a wonderful script driven by memorable performances. Hepburn was sublime as a woman who was still learning how to cope with blindness after her accident a year ago. Although she doubted that she could ever be fully independent, her husband (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) pushed her to learn to look after herself. My eyes was drawn to her as she effortlessly switched from being fun and flirtatious to attempting to hide the fact that she had stumbled upon new information critical to her survival. She had the responsibility of carrying the film as she adapted slightly different temperaments with the many disguised characters who entered her apartment. She had to become more than a vulnerable blind girl surrounded by crooks, slowly learning that maybe her initial doubts of not being able to function on her own was just a sign of a bad attitude. Arkin was also wonderful as Roat. He injected a healthy dose of darkness to his character. He wore sunglasses indoors and walked around as if he was better than everybody. When Roat and Susy were inevitably the last two standing in the apartment, it was incredibly suspenseful because the position of power constantly shifted. Young’s carefully measured direction came into play when the screen would momentarily turn to black because the only source of light was a match. It was a perfect example of not seeing something being equally scary as seeing everything. There were also some scenes of comedy. A little girl named Gloria, Susy and her husband’s upstairs neighbor, was an important key in the puzzle. Despite the real danger that surrounded the building, Gloria thought it was fun and exciting that suspicious men were entering and leaving Susy’s apartment. She was just glad to be a part of it because Susy assigned her small missions like buying groceries and giving Susy signals using the telephone. “Wait Until Dark” delivered every level of suspense. I will never see a refrigerator the same way.
Gin gwai (2002)
★★★ / ★★★★
A woman (Angelica Lee) who had been blind for most of her life had the opportunity to receive a corneal transplant so she could see again. Initially, the operation seemed to be successful but Mun eventually started to see ghosts and strange omens when someone was about to die. “Gin gwai” or “The Eye,” directed by Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang, was a genuinely scary horror picture which could have been an instant classic if it had toned down some of its visual effects and strengthened the backstory of the woman who used to own Mun’s new corneas. The first time I saw this film, I was very impressed because its beauty was in the details. When the protagonist was finally able to see, the material was smart enough to be as realistic as possible in terms of a former blind person’s transition. That is, despite the fact that Mun could now see, she still relied on her touch to “see” and recognize objects. People who have a science background might take the details for granted, but for the casual viewers, the doctors’ explanation of the current disconnect between the eyes and brain was critical. Mun’s confrontation with the ghosts were downright chilling. The scene with the old man in the elevator was something that could not easily be forgotten. The Pang Brothers knew the difference between suspense and horror. They used an ordinary activity (taking an elevator), put a person with an extraordinary ability in a cramped space with a ghost–the suspense–and allowing the person to realize she was not alone and that she had spend some time with the entity until she reached her floor of interest–the horror. The images which came hand-in-hand with creepy sounds elevated the terror. The formula of build-up and pay-off was apparent but it was executed with skill so I did not at all mind. Unfortunately, the pacing of the film slowed down considerably when Mun and her doctor/romantic interest (Lawrence Chou) visited Thailand to track down a woman who used to own Mun’s corneas. They figured that if the ghost finally found peace, the strange ability would finally cease. I thought it was cliché and I felt like the writers could have written a more inspired backstory. Furthermore, the scenes with ghosts going through Mun’s body in an attempt to touch her were ineffective. The anticipation of ghosts catching up with her was more than enough. Nevertheless, the movie’s shortcomings were overshadowed by its many rewards. The characters were relatable because they were smart, the concept of transplant-gone-wrong was consistently interesting, and the scares were earned. Modern American horror pictures can learn a thing or two from its craftsmanship.
★★ / ★★★★
I think a lot of critics and audiences alike have been way harsh on this film. I concur that this picture is not easy to swallow and digest since most of the story took place in one area. It definitely got suffocating because the audiences are subjected to see the same place for about an hour and fifteen minutes (the middle portion); the only things that changed are the increasingly disgusting living conditions of the blind and the dynamics among the wards. Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore lead one of the wards, a doctor and a doctor’s wife, one lost his sight and the other one kept her sight (though it must be kept a secret), respectively. It was interesting to watch their relationship change as the film went on because Ruffalo depended on his wife regarding pretty much everything. There was a brilliant scene when Ruffalo talked to Moore about not seeing her the same after she feeds him, bathes him, and cleans him up in ways that a nurse or mother normally does. There was this undeniable tension between them but at the same time they must stay together because everything around them is falling apart. I thought it was interesting how Fernando Meirelles, the director, chose to tell the story. In the first few scenes, we focus on this one man who suddenly goes blind in the middle of traffic (Yusuke Iseya) and slowly transition to other people suddenly going blind to the point where it becomes an epidemic. The epidemic and ravaged city reminded me of “28 Days Later” and “28 Weeks Later,” only instead of zombies roaming the streets, it’s blind individuals. I also liked the slightly hopeful ending because the suffering was not entirely for naught. Still, by the end of the picture, I still wanted to know the source of the epidemic. That lack of explanation somewhat got to me (and I imagine as most people would). I don’t deny the fact that I saw some hints of great filmmaking here such as the stark contrast between certain images in the beginning and the end of the movie. I also liked the “Lord of the Flies” element in the quarantine zone when everyone had to decide who would get how much food, who the leader should be and who would emerge victorious between the wards. I’ve never seen Gael García Bernal so immoral so his character definitely took me by surprise. With a little bit more explanation and less saggy middle portion, this would’ve been a much powerful film. The acting was already really good and there were scenes that really tugged at my heartstrings. See this if you’re curious and hopefully you’ll see what I see in it: potential.