Format: DVD from Bradley Public Library through interlibrary loan on rockin’ flatscreen.
I’ve said any number of times that I’m not a gorehound. I accept there are plenty of moments in horror movies that are really disturbing and disgusting. I don’t mind when that happens when they are relevant to the plot. Guillermo del Toro is very good at this—having moments of real body horror that are necessary for where the film wants to go. Same with David Cronenberg. I say that because there is a moment in Julia’s Eyes (or Los ojos de Julia if you prefer the Spanish) that for me was unwatchable. Don’t take this to mean that the movie itself isn’t worth seeing. There’s just a moment I can’t watch.
While the film is named after Julia, we’re going to start with her sister, Sara (Belen Rueda). Sara is clearly blind, and she is clearly panicked. We see her go to her basement, stand on a stool, and put her head in a noose. The stool gets kicked away, and while Sara dies, we see that someone is evidently taking photographs of her struggles. We then cut to Sara’s sister Julia (also Belen Rueda), who, in the manner of siblings in horror movies, is suddenly aware that something terrible has happened to Sara.
What we learn is that Julia is also losing her sight, much like her sister did. She starts to investigate what happened to her sister. Sara’s death is naturally ruled a suicide, but Julia is not willing to accept that. After all, she reasons, Sara was preparing herself for a surgery that had a chance of restoring her eyesight. Julia’s husband Isaac (Lluis Homar) tells her to stop investigating. According to Sara’s doctor, she had already had the surgery, and it was unsuccessful. Sara, everyone decides, killed herself rather than live as a blind woman.
But Julia is still not satisfied. What bothers her more than anything is the feeling that there is a presence around her, someone who doesn’t fit with the rest of the world. This tracks with the discovery that Sara had a boyfriend, although no one seems to remember anything about him. Julia is warned by a janitor to be wary of men who, as he says, live in the shadows. When that janitor turns up dead shortly after, Julia’s suspicions are certainly aroused. This is intensified when Isaac disappears as well, and suddenly reappears, hanging in Sara’s basement from the same noose.
I really don’t want to go into a lot more detail with how Julia’s Eyes works. There are a number of twists and turns here that really need to be experienced and shouldn’t be spoiled on a blog. I do want to talk about how the film works, though, because I haven’t really seen a film do precisely what Julia’s Eyes does in terms of its visuals.
The natural comparison is to a film like Wait Until Dark. Eventually, Julia decides to have the surgery that might restore her sight, and she is forced to keep her eyes bandaged for two weeks or risk the operation failing. What this means is that she spends a great deal of the film blind. In Wait Until Dark, tension is built over time because we, the audience, can see everything that is happening around the Audrey Hepburn character while she can’t see anything. In Julia’s Eyes, the opposite happens, Much of what we see is blurry or occluded, matching in many ways what Julia can’t see. The tension is built because no one knows what is happening around her.
I also want to talk about the third act of Julia’s Eyes without going into much detail here. There are films that trade in a truly memorable conclusion. Julia’s Eyes features two elements that make this third act memorable. The first is the moment that I couldn’t watch. I will say that at the very least it is well-telegraphed, so if you need to back out of it, you absolutely can.
The other thing about the climax of the film is that it is one of the best you’re going to find. It combines the best elements of Wait Until Dark and The Silence of the Lambs to present something that is unbelievably tense and terrifying. It ultimately had a great deal in common with the 1970s television movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.
Julia’s Eyes is a very dark and upsetting movie. It starts a bit slowly but it really works hard on creating an atmosphere that slowly becomes more and more upsetting and disturbing over time. It builds consistently, giving us that first inciting incident and building to something that matches that moment and goes far beyond it.
This is too good of a movie to be this underknown.
Why to watch Julia’s Eyes: A climax as good as anything you’ve seen in a long time.
Why not to watch: There is a truly horrifying, unwatchable moment.