Eye 2, The

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 08/09/05 20:46:02

"As creepy, smart, and slick as the first? You bet."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I’m disappointed that the Pang Brothers, those hipster Hong Kong filmmakers responsible for the horror hit “The Eye,” opted to take a ride on the sequel train that’s been racing through Asian cinema (faster, even, than the one that’s overtaken Hollywood). Their new movie has nothing at all in connection to the storyline of “The Eye” (only the central idea - a main character can see ghosts - remains), yet they call it “The Eye 2” anyway, just as a means to quicker cash and faster name recognition. There is no real reason (not counting greed) for this film to be passing itself off as a sequel, yet it is.

Now. With that bit of ranting out of the way… “The Eye 2” is further proof that the Pang Brothers sure know how to build a better horror movie. Their knack for effective chills is once again on display, this time in a story involving the young, suicidal Joey Cheng (Qi Shu), whose thwarted pill-downing episode results in the power to see the dead. Worse, she discovers she’s pregnant, knocked up by the ex whose break-up led her to suicide in the first place. And as a topper, she’s being followed, it seems, by the spirit of a mysterious woman that just won’t leave her alone.

What the Pangs - Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chen - attempt here is a clever spin that uses the ghost story genre to carry themes of pregnancy fears. It’s a risky shot, considering that “Rosemary’s Baby” did the same thing decades before, and did it so expertly at that. But “The Eye 2” never tries to duplicate that classic film. (In fact, other than the pregnancy theme, there’s nothing similar between the two.)

Here, Joey’s increasing insanity is passed off as merely a reaction to the pregnancy. To others, she’s merely protective of her unborn child; the others obviously don’t see the floating phantoms that are trying to steal her baby.

Or are they? Joey’s delicate mental state suggests to us that there may be more to the story than what she’s interpreting. Conversations with a Buddhist monk (Philip Kwok) suggest that Joey has nothing to fear, that the living and the dead coexist everywhere, and that’s all part of the universe. The monk offers up thoughts on reincarnation: expectant mothers are followed by the ghost of someone waiting to be born again.

Which would be all fine and good, if not for the fact that Joey can see them all, and most of them don’t look like shiny, happy souls. You’d be freaking out on a regular basis, too, if you were bombarded with imagery like the mother and son ghosts who jump off a roof, become sidewalk pancakes, then begin to talk while half their faces are flattened against the ground. Or the woman in the taxi whose head seems to be on backwards; she keeps leaning closer and closer and closer and closer and holy crap! (Ahem. Where was I? Ah, yes.)

Just as the screenplay (by Jo Jo Hui, coauthor of the first “Eye”) finds itself getting into a rut (Joey freaks out, lands in the hospital/police station, calms down, repeat), it salvages itself by returning us to the mystery of the ghost woman who’s been following Joey around. This plotline puts everything back on track, and how: the script’s solution dumps an extra layer of emotional heft into the mix, making us feel once more for the already strained Joey. (Qi Shu’s performance is a stand-out, deftly combining scream queen terror with a gentle heartbroken quality that makes us sincerely feel for her character. Her opening “suicidal” scenes hook us with their sadness and sell us on the outlandish story to follow; it pays off with a third act that’s equal parts chilling and painfully tragic.) There is a scene near the end that’s burned in my brain permanently: Joey is determined to do something, the ghost is determined not to let her, and this cycle is an out-and-out shocker, easily topping anything in the previous film.

So yes, I’m upset that the Pangs couldn’t merely call this what it truly is: an independent story that works on its own merits. I’m frustrated at the sequelitis behind it all. But I’m also very eager to forgive and forget, as “The Eye 2,” no matter what its title, is a knockout of a ghost story. It’s a movie that does its best to be more complex, more fulfilling than the average horror film. It gives us an emotional center that holds steady through all the shocks. This, along with the fact that those shocks are top of the line, make “The Eye 2” worthy of the title it shouldn’t be borrowing.

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