Another week, another Asian-inspired horror movie. Or so it seems, at least. This time, it’s The Eye, an American remake of the trippy 2003 film from the Pang brothers, Danny and Oxide, that often runs on the Independent Film Channel and which was such a big hit in its homeland that it spawned a couple of sequels. It’s hard to imagine this new version having the same impact, although The Eye is certainly leagues better than the recent One Missed Call.
Jessica Alba stars as Sydney Wells, a blind concert violinist who lost her sight in a firecracker accident at age five. The always-reliable Parker Posey co-stars as Sydney’s sister Helen, but she’s wasted in an underwritten role. There’s a hint that Helen was somehow responsible for the incident that led to Sydney’s blindness that is never fully explored, to the story’s detriment.
Desperately wanting her vision back, Sydney opts for a cornea transplant. The operation is seemingly a success until she starts seeing weird dream-like images that eventually morph into full-blown hallucinations. The stuff she sees is par for the course in these J-horror re-dos: creepy kids, shadowy demons, fire and explosions, and so on. A vision specialist named Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola) convinces her that this is a normal by-product of regaining sight – the mind’s way of processing new and unfamiliar information, if you will. However, the visions grow increasingly disturbing, to the point where Sydney thinks that something might be trying to harm her.
The Eye is another version of that old horror staple in which someone receives an organ or limb transplant, then immediately begins experiencing the trauma that belonged to said organ or limb’s previous owner. Sydney eventually makes her way to Mexico, where she discovers the painful truth about the young woman whose corneas she received. And, this being a horror movie, she also comes face-to-face with the same shadowy demons that have been trailing her wherever she goes.
The good news is that this movie is a lot better than it could have been. While I like the inherent freakiness of the J-horror pictures, most of the American remakes (save The Ring) have badly fumbled their attempts to adapt the style for our audiences. As I’ve said before, it’s often the very foreignness of the Asian horror flicks that makes them so chilling. They simply don’t look or sound like conventional American genre movies, which gives them a real kick. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s attempts to localize them often lose that very spark of strangeness that is so integral to their success.
As directed by the filmmaking team of David Moreau and Xavier Palud, The Eye retains some much-needed freakiness. The nightmarish imagery Sydney sees is legitimately unsettling, especially those dark, tooth-ridden demons. There were even a few occasions where the film made me jump by having something pop out unexpectedly. Best of all are the early moments, where an out-of-focus camera shows us Sydney’s point of view as her new eyes try to adapt. We can’t make out what she’s seeing any better than she can, which creates an unsettling sensation.
It should also be said that Jessica Alba gives one of her better performances here. Alba has a winning personality and movie star good looks, but she rarely takes (or gets) roles that challenge her. She has a little more to do this time, and she pulls it off quite respectably.
Now here’s the semi-bad news: The Eye isn’t really scary. This story has been done before, and the adapted screenplay does nothing to make it fresh or different. Also, what creepy moments there are come mostly from the special effects; the film itself doesn’t necessarily generate or sustain any real suspense. By no means is this a bad picture, but it doesn’t really grab you the way some other recent horror movies like 1408 or The Orphanage do.
I operate under the belief that horror movies should be scary or, at the very least, surprising. The Eye is neither of those, although it is diverting and not without some entertaining moments. I’m on this fence about this one.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Eye is rated PG-13 for violence/terror and disturbing content.. The running time is 1 hour and 37 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: The Eye
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