By Linsey Satterthwaite
Cinema has long been preoccupied with how much we actually see in the frame and what we cannot, whether it is the lead protagonist in the metaphorical dark, the audience, or the two combined together.
When a character’s sight is thrown into question, this lends another twist, cloaking the plot with deceptive shades. The thriller genre has benefited from this narrative strand of limited sight, particularly with a female character in peril in films such as Wait Until Dark, where a blind Audrey Hepburn is terrorised by criminals trying to retrieve a heroin stash that has inadvertently been placed in her apartment and Blink, with Madeline Stowe as a blind woman who after undergoing an eye operation, experiences a ‘vision flash’ of a potential murder and is then stalked by the killer.
The latest film to explore the terror of diminishing vision is Spanish thriller Julia’s Eyes directed by Guillem Morales with a producer credit for Guillermo Del Toro.The film concerns Julia, a woman with a degenerative eye disease that will eventually render her blind. Her sister, Sara, also suffers from the disease and having succumbed to blindness, is found hanging in her basement but Julia refuses to believe the implication that she has committed suicide and sets out to solve the mystery. However she is pursued by a shadowy figure in her quest for the truth and as her eye sight ebbs away, with sudden attacks of complete blindness, so does her grip on what is real and who to trust.
Taking influence from films such as Peeping Tom and Rear Window, Julia’s Eyes offers a taut meditation into the idea of voyeurism, and of a life lived in the shadows of society; it is also a good old entertaining yarn that fulfills the promise of edge-of-your-seat tension. All the archetypes of the thriller whodunit are present: the doting husband, the lonely neighbour, the socially neglected caretaker and the film’s serpentine narrative takes many turns to keep Julia and the audience guessing who the hidden perpetrator really is. The shift of visual power is also traded throughout the film, as in one particular sequence where Julia eavesdrops on a group of blind women discussing her sister Sara, believing that she is under the radar, but they sense her presence and turn and surround her like a hunter trapping its prey. The camera also turns the POV to that of the ghostly predator, almost creating an imbalance for the audience as to where their empathy and position in the film lies. The use of light throughout scenes is used to significant effect with elements concealed within shots, blurred edges and chiaroscuro lighting, especially in the final climatic sequence which is lit only by the flash bulbs of a photographic camera, creating a hyper-intense succession of obscured shots.
There are a few occasions where the film struggles with plausibility. For instance, why would Julia stay in her sister’s house alone instead of the hospital ,when she knows there is a madman lurking in the darkness and she is unable to see? Or chase the potential culprit when she could be struck by a ‘blindness attack’ at any moment? But these are minor quibbles in a film which delivers genuine chills and plenty of squeamish moments. Take a trip to the dark side through Julia’s Eyes before the inevitably inferior Hollywood remake is made. You will never listen to Dusty Springfield’s ‘The Look of Love’ the same way again.