Wednesday, December 15, 2010

SCN: Guillem Morales' top-notch scare fare JULIA'S EYES stars terrorized Belén Rueda

If scary movies must always be with us -- and from the looks of film history, they will  --  these should only be as classy and creepy as JULIA'S EYES (Los Ojos de Julia). This is the new film from director/co-writer (with Oriol Paulo) Guillem Morales, co-produced by Guillermo del Toro, starring Belén Rueda (shown on poster, left, and in the photos below). The last two names should bring to mind another scary movie from 2007, The Orphanage.

This new one is much the stronger film. It begins with the simplest and most straight-forward of premises -- a twin looks into the death of her sister -- and from there quickly and rather quietly (for awhile, at least) evolves into a web of evil and deception, hurt and betrayal, that only  the great skill of filmmaker Morales (he's shown at right) manages to keep from spinning out of control. Along the way this creative film-making team, behind and in front of the camera, provides events and scenes that will probably remain in your memory until you no longer possess one.

Señor Morales has given us only two full-length features so far, but the first of these -- The Uninvited Guest (El habitante incierto)-- was also a stunner (my original review for GreenCine is here.) That film was unconventional by any standard, and yet it worked. Julia's Eyes apears to be quite conventional, and while its filmmaker embraces the conventions, he also uses them in some truly marvelous and unusual ways. You know the scene where someone is chased down a long dark hall in which the lights keep going out, one by one?  In Morales version, those lights keep going on -- because discerning identity is what's most important here.

An early scene has our heroine inserting herself quietly into a group of blind women, in a locker room, as they chat and change their clothes -- the results of which are amazing. The combination of drab, institutional-green color palette with odd juxtapositions of bodies and hold-your-breath suspense is different, to say the least. I've never seen anything quite like this scene.

Julia's Eyes is film of grays and blacks, rain, power outages and dark, dank things. Eyesight and vision are paramount. What Julia sees and how this appears to her is vital to her understanding, as is what we viewers see and understand. The two don't always match. Obviously, POV is important here, and while I am not certain that Morales gets it right all the time, he certainly does often enough to sweep us along at a faster and faster pace.

The movie is practically all Ms Belen, all the time, through Lluís Homar (below, left, and just seen in SCN's Paper Birds) makes a fine husband and foil to the actress. A word must also be said for the third player in this group: Pablo Derqui, who brings so much appeal, sexual and otherwise, to his unusual role that he comes close to sharing acting honors with Belen.  

The villain, when finally unmasked, becomes a vital & strange part of this concoction -- so much more real, horrible and, yes, sad than any Jason or Freddy has ever been. This is Morales' achievement: In 112 minutes, he gives us creepiness, chills and out-and-out fright; surprise, suspense, shock; enough (but not too much) blood and gore to satisfy fans of such; some humor (though it's pretty bleak) and, yes, love, loss and even tears. If, at last, we don't have quite that happy ending that Americans do enjoy, we get something better. Richer. Stranger. Call it a European happy end.

Though both SCN screenings of Julia's Eyes are now history, I cannot believe that we won't see this film in theaters or on DVD/VOD soon. It's simply too good not to have a post-SCN life in the USA. And it is doubtful that any American remake could better what Señor Morales has achieved.

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