Reviewed by David J. Gralnik
While adding a little bit of class to the package, The Eye is exactly what viewers have come to expect from PG-13, horror remakes. The film teases higher levels of filmmaking with Jessica Alba’s more than competent performance, clean direction by David Moreau and Xavier Palud, and surprisingly effective sound design, but it fails to transcend the already forgettable, Hong Kong original.
Sydney Wells (Alba) is a blind violinist who regains her sight by way of a cornea transplant. With the help of her sister, Helen (Parker Posey) and Dr. Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola), Sydney seems to be on the road to a new life. If only it were that simple. Upon experiencing the world through her new eyes, Sydney begins to see post-mortem visions, and this leads her, and her friends, to question her sanity.
Without dedicating much more space to the film’s Hong Kong origins, it is important to stress that it does suffer from the translation. The film’s opening shot portrays a woman tormented by a mob of people, and it is edited so haphazardly that it could have been easily mistaken for a badly constructed film trailer. Sure, the scene comes to bear later on, but they could have placed it better at a later point in the film there is too much Ritalin in the editing room. The film’s attention span is dodgy and this impatience plagues scenes where just a few extra seconds could coat the scene in the dread that they seem to be striving for.
Following the prologue, the film’s sound design simultaneously becomes its most important aspect and the most significant evidence of rewrites. The film places the viewer in the perspective of Sydney as she walks her path down the tenuous (at least for a blind person) streets of Los Angeles this amplification of the “normal” is highlighted when, in a subtle fashion, everything she touches receives prominent audio and creates a tangible soundscape of rich texture. The obligatory scene of her waking up and functioning is present but – as a result of the sound – is brought up a notch.
Ironically, the film’s actors are, unlike the rest of the sound design, better seen not heard. Apparently the postproduction crew felt similarly because the obvious looping tends to indicate trouble behind the scenes. Of principle concern is Sydney’s shepherd into the world of sight, Dr. Faulkner. The character is so perplexing because, on one hand, he tells Sydney that he will help ease her into the world after she tells him about her visions, he flies off the handle and yells at her, telling her that what she’s seeing isn’t real. That is some quality bedside manner. Not all of the blame can go to the writing, though. Nivola has just as much trouble delivering believable lines, so it just serves to further confuse the viewer. The lack of chemistry between any actors in the film adds to this potent mixture as well.
As a Friday night horror film, The Eye succeeds more than one might expect. When Sydney is alone in her apartment, her fear is believable and the viewer will be right there with her. These scenes are the best of the film, and it would have benefit from way more of it. The scares could be considered “cheap,” but their legitimacy lies in the fact that anything that creeps up on an individual who just regained sight would scare the hell out of them. For Sydney, the world is one of those haunted houses that people pay to go into around Halloween. Therefore, jump-scares are fair game, and it tastefully uses them.
It seems that all films of this type require pretty massive leaps of logical faith, and this film commands its fair share. Most notably is the shadowy figure that guides the dead to wherever the dead go. Sydney encounters the being multiple times and it growls and makes horrible noises at her simultaneously, it guides lost souls away, and its charges do not show any concern. It is safe to assume that, if a shrieking monster wants to take someone anywhere, he/she would at least protest with a carefully placed, “well, I’d rather not.”
With its crosshairs aiming at teenagers (PG-13), The Eye is not a failure. The original film was nowhere near a masterpiece, so this remake is not exactly picking from golden fields. The casting needs work, and the direction/editing needs more patience, but the film is entirely watchable.