While Guillermo del Toro might not have directed a film in a while, he has not been idle. His producing credits show a devotion to and invigoration of the Spanish film industry, in particularly in the horror and thriller genre. Following in the footsteps of his success with The Orphanage, del Toro has produced Guillem Morales’ latest thriller Julia’s Eyes. Spanish star Belen Rueda plays the title character, an astronomer with a degenerative eye disease that has already claimed her twin sister Sara’s sight. Sara has been found in her home, allegedly from suicide, but Julia suspects foul play. While being actively discouraged by her husband, Julia takes up her own investigation when clues lead her to believe Sara had a lover who might have taken her life.
Julia also seems to be being followed by a man that no one can describe. This man is briefly visible to Julia, but his identity remains a mystery. As Julia investigates, her sight begins to deteriorate. Certainly, thrillers featuring the blind are not new, but Morales is examining the process of going blind, our psychological reliance upon our sight, and our frequent inability to cope with changing physical circumstances. This is not the gothic horror of The Orphanage, this film is decidedly Hitchcockian in execution.
Rather than relying upon CGI to produce Julia’s visual spectrum, Morales instead uses simple camera positioning. When Julia’s sight is almost gone, what she loses is her ability to see faces; thus, any new person is an unknown and she must trust them. She knows her surroundings and what her own face looks like, so the camera shows her and her house; but any new characters are shown only from the neck down, allowing the viewer to at least in part understand the necessity for Julia to interpret only by sound, touch and smell. She must relearn how to “look”. But this is also a film about what it means to be seen. If we are seen, we exist. If we are not seen, do we disappear? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what happens when the eyes die? Julia’s relationship with her husband began when he expressed admiration for her beauty; a man who seems to exist cannot be visually remembered by those who must have seen him.
At nearly two hours, the film is probably about 15 minutes too long; as a thriller, the pace needs to be kept up and mount, and the film sags a bit in the middle. But the final half hour is an incredible ride, full of surprising twists and the best use of flash photography in a climax since Rear Window. The last few minutes of the film are perhaps a bit too maudlin, but over all this is a solid thriller at a time when Spanish film has never been stronger.