Judge Daryl Loomis sees dead concepts.
Jeepers creepers, where'd you get those peepers?
How long will it take before Hollywood realizes that these remakes of Asian horror films don't work? It's been six years now since the original remake of The Ring was released and, to date, none of the follow up films has come even close to its success. Yet, every time a successful movie comes out in the East, the West snatches it up, throws in a big name female lead, and releases it while hoping for the best. This time, we have an American version of the highly successful Hong Kong ghost tale, The Eye, where the eyes aren't just the windows to the soul, but beyond it.
Facts of the Case
Esteemed concert violinist Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba, Sin City) lost her sight in a firecracker accident when she was 5 years old and, though she's coped fine with her disability, wants to see again. After undergoing a corneal transplant, Sydney opens her eyes to see her sister and the beauty of the world around her. But she sees something else, too, something nobody else does. She sees the end of life, visions of fire and violence, and thinks she's going mad. When she looks in the mirror, she sees a different woman, the woman whose eyes these were and Sydney believes that this woman is trying to send her a message from the beyond. Can Sydney decipher the message before she goes completely crazy?
Jessica Alba may be easy on the eyes. Unfortunately, her work in The Eye is not so easy on you. She's plainly blank through the whole film. She's unconvincing playing the violin and she's unconvincing as a blind woman, but she's neither of these things in reality. What's troubling is how unconvincing she acts as a woman with sight. Once the surgery is complete, all of a sudden, she walks blindly through the rest of the film, only mildly reacting to the disturbing images she sees. I guess it's hard to blame her for that, though, when there is absolutely no threat in the film at all. It's true that she's seeing creepy looking people where nobody is there and it's true that nobody believes that she's seeing them. All this makes for a decent ghost story premise. Maybe she has to figure out a way to prove that she's not insane before the evil gets her. That would be nice except that all she has to do is come up with a shred of corroborating evidence that weird stuff like this has happened before (cellular memory) and everyone believes her. If it were that simple for crazy people to convince doctors that their delusions are real, the streets would be flooded with nuts. The only real danger in the whole film concerns a twist in the last ten minutes but, otherwise, the ghosts are just around to freak her out (and us, I suppose) and then disappear. Because nobody else feels the effects of these specters, they have no sense that anything's wrong. They act like it, too, and it often appears that Alba was the only one told this was a ghost story. Parker Posey (Waiting for Guffman) is the only other actor of note, appearing very briefly as Sydney's sister; another in a long line of wasted roles for the actress.
I haven't seen the original version of The Eye, but I would hope that the concept was more fleshed out in that than in this remake. The concept of cellular memory is an interesting one that has some documentation in reality, but they treat it as blandly as possible. They can't ride it as an original concept, having first appeared (to my knowledge) before it even had a name in Karl Freund's 1935 lurid masterpiece Mad Love, afterward in comic-horror films like Idle Hands, and on television as Twilight Zone episodes and Simpsons gags. Generally, the transplant is from a killer, and it's a little different here, but they don't do enough twisting of the concept to make anything substantially different out of it. In making a by-the-numbers horror film with no real threat, directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud had to find a way to make us care about the characters, but elect to do this in the cheapest, most manipulative way possible. On more than one occasion, they pull the dead or dying child card. It's very easy, too easy, to sympathize with children in peril but in a horror film, such a device should never be necessary. This device is a pet peeve of mine in general, but it is especially disgusting in horror where there should be real, tangible dangers to occupy the characters.
Lionsgate's release of The Eye is good all around. The camerawork and effects, while not spectacular, are well rendered in the anamorphic widescreen transfer. There is some grain in certain scenes, but it's rare and never too distracting. The 5.1 surround sound is strong, but sometimes a little too overbearing. Apparently, the sound people decided that heavy use of the subwoofer is "scary," so they work it hard. It's a powerful sound mix, but I found myself annoyed rather than scared. The extras are fairly slim, but good for what they are. About 20 minutes of deleted scenes are included, showing audiences just how bored they could have been had these been included, so we can thank our lucky stars they weren't. Four documentaries describe how hard they all worked to make the film, which, given the result, seems kind of sad to me. As an audio option, Lionsgate has included TheatreVision English Descriptive Audio Service, the blind person's equivalent to captioning, in which somebody is narrating the action onscreen between lines of dialog. This was a first for me, and it makes sense for a film about blind people; it would be nice to see this on every release, though the cost must be pretty high. Rounding out the release is a second disc containing a separate copy of the film for your Mac and Ipod, you know, in case you can't get enough of this film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
For as lame as The Eye is in many place, there is some cool imagery. Sydney's dreams have interesting symbolism and there is a scene where Sydney realizes that she's seeing her eyes' old owner in the mirror, the horror version of the classic Marx Brothers' scene from Duck Soup, only not as funny.
American horror has had plenty of great concepts over the years, and the world is full of horror films with interesting plots. Why must we continually draw from the same well whose water has been rancid for years?
Justice may be blind, but this judge isn't. Guilty.
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