Julia (Belen Rueda) and her husband, Isaac (Lluis Homar), travel to the home of her twin sister, Sara, who has recently committed suicide. Much like her sister, Julia suffers from a rare degenerative eye disorder that threatens to strike her blind, a disorder that can easily be triggered by extreme stress. Julia becomes convinced that Sara did not commit suicide, but was instead murdered. Against her husband’s wishes she begins to investigate the last few days of her sister’s life, uncovering friends, neighbors and lovers – and possibly, a murderer as well. Julia soon falls victim to a series of disasters, one of which is the lost of her sight. With no where else to go as she recovers from surgery, Julia remains at her sister’s home as the mystery of her sister’s death boils to the surface.
Julia’s Eyes (Los Ojos de Julia) as directed by Guillem Morales is an atmospheric, tense throwback to the giallo film genre. The art direction and cinematography are superb, filling the entire film with dread, doom and gloom. The shadows have as much life as the actors and the scenery. Morales gets a strong performance from his entire cast as well, especially his lead, Belen Rueda, who draws the audience in effortlessly. The film is a series of wonderfully crafted set pieces but struggles to tie them together – they’re bonded as loosely as Sara’s house is strung to the nearby blind neighbor’s house by a rope. The film is a bit too long and the ending isn’t as inventive nor intense as intended. There’s much to like about Julia’s Eyes, but many may find getting through it all more labor than love.
A film like this needs a courageous lead and it gets it in Belen Rueda. She is riveting, simultaneously vulnerable and strong. She is instantly sympathetic sucking the viewer right along side her for her perilous journey. It’s a commanding performance and one that keeps the interest level high when the excitement level wanes. With Rueda, the audience is treated to determination, fear, intelligence, grief and strength. Her character is rich, fully developed and the anchor to the film. It has to be and her portrayal of Julia is memorable, enchanting and hypnotic.
Equally memorable is the cinematography and the direction. The film is a joy to watch, well crafted and well shot. The rain drenches the films, the darkness is suffocating, the shadows come alive, hiding Julia’s worst fears. It’s the kind of rich tapestry that you expect from films produced by Guillermo del Toro – The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth and The Orphanage. Guillem Morales shows great promise with Julia’s Eyes. Oscar Faura handles the cinematography and brings the same sense of foreboding and brooding as he did in The Orphanage. The film is a visual treat.
While it is only 112 minutes long, Julia’s Eyes feels longer and should perhaps be shortened by 15 minutes. Its plot is plodding and takes its time building, some of which creates a great deal of suspense while other times results tripping up the pacing – especially when the film involves the neighbors or a missing key tied to a bell. The mystery of the murderer – if there is one and, if so, who is it – is a bit drawn out and fairly unsurprising. While the way the character of Ivan the home nurse is shown in full view but his face is always hidden is an interesting way to keep the audience on edge – we don’t get to see his face because Julia has never seen him either – it doesn’t serve its intentions full justice. The finale is a bit underwhelming, mostly because the audience is given too much time to think about it, but the way the director and the script keep playing with idea of killer hiding in the shadows is handled in a fascinating manner. While the film may suffer from these relatively small drawbacks hindering the focal mystery of the film, they won’t cripple the enjoyment of the film for many viewers. The film still rewards the viewer with a rich experience and a great performance from its star.
Julia’s Eyes is another strong entry into the growing list of Spanish horror films of the modern age. It is full of tense scenes and great atmosphere. Belen Rueda brings the same depth, intelligence, beauty and empathy to Julia as she did in The Orphanage and truly holds the film together. While the twist is unsurprising and the film’s pacing is bumpy at times, the film captures the fear of loosing your sight and the claustrophobia and despair that comes along with it. The shadows literally close in on Julia and box her in. For the more patience viewers, Julia’s Eyes has a lot to offer and makes a great second feature along with The Orphanage or Devil’s Backbone.
3 out of 5