Eye, The (2008)

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 02/02/08 01:00:00

"When, when wll the J-horror remakes stop?"
3 stars (Just Average)

"The Eye," the latest in a seemingly endless series of Asian horror remakes, appears in multiplexes this weekend minus the benefit of advance screenings for the reviewing press. Generally when that happens, it’s a good sign that the film’s producers and/or distributors, in this case Lionsgate and Paramount/Vantage, have little faith in their product. They just want to get it in and out of multiplexes with a minimum of negative coverage and a reasonable return on their investment. Luckily for Lionsgate and Paramount/Vantage, "The Eye" didn’t cost much to produce. With exactly one actor or actress, Jessica Alba, with mainstream recognition in the credits and non-American directors, David Moreau and Xavier Palud ("Ils" a.k.a. "Them"), who probably came cheap, a return on their investment seems certain.

Thanks to redundant voiceover narration, post prologue, we learn that Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba), a concert violinist blind since she was five due to a childhood accident, is about to get her eyesight restored thanks to corneal transplants. Her older sister, Helen (Parker Posey), shows up, partly out of moral support, partly out of guilt (since she was responsible for the childhood accident that caused Sydney to lose her sight). At the hospital, she meets a young girl fighting off cancer, Alicia Millstone (Chloe Moretz). Post-surgery, the world is a blur of shapes and colors. Sydney, disoriented by the sensory input, sees a dark, shadowy figure appear and disappear, apparently at random, but later, she spots the same shadowy figure accompany her roommate, Mrs. Hillman (Karen Austin), away. Sydney learns the next day that Mrs. Hillman died during the night.

Still struggling to adjust to the sighted world, her doctor, Dr. Haskins (Obba Babatundé), refers her to a specialist, Dr. Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola). Faulkner apparently specializes in helping the newly sighted adjust to having five senses again (or for the first time). Sydney’s encounters with the shadowy figure suggest a pattern: he appears moments before someone is about to die and immediately thereafter. She also begins to have nightmares involving a fire, a burning man, and a young girl trapped in a camper. Ghosts painfully reliving their last moments also begin to make their presence known. Doubting her sanity, Sydney comes close to a breakdown, but eventually decides to find out more about the young Mexican woman, Ana Christina Martinez (Fernanda Romero), whose untimely death gave Sydney the gift of normal and second sight.

Adapted by Sebastian Gutierrez (Rise: Blood Hunter, Snakes on a Plane, Gothika), The Eye follows Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui's 2002 screenplay practically beat for beat, scare by scare (whatever scares there are, that is). Where Gutierrez’s screenplay understandably diverges from the original, however, is in eliminating the references to Eastern religion, instead focusing on Sydney’s inner (and outer) journey toward self- and other-knowledge. While Gutierrez’s screenplay explains everything away (a net negative), it also has a tighter causal logic absent from the Pang Brothers’ version. In the original, the Pang Brothers seemed less interested in creating an internally coherent story than in cramming in as many shocks, scares, and pyrotechnics as their budget would allow. It worked, of course, in getting the Pang Brothers stateside attention. Their first English-language effort, last year’s The Messengers, did poorly at the box office and with film critics, for good reason (e.g., weak, derivative, shallow storytelling).

If, per the marketing campaign, you were expecting a supernatural horror flick with scares, scares, and more scares, then you’re bound to be disappointed with "The Eye." Instead of spacing out shocks and scares evenly, Moreau and Palud take the “slow-burn” approach, hoping to lure in moviegoers with the occasionally unsettling moment, camera tricks to emphasize the newly sighted Sydney’s disorientation, confusion, and frustration. All of that would be fine if "The Eye" was, in fact, drama minus the horror, but runs counter to what the producers wanted out of "The Eye." On some level, Moreau and Palud deserve props for their non-conventional (read: non-commercial) approach. On another level, it’s hard to imagine why the producers would agree to their approach and risk losing their investment, but they did and the end result is ultimately (slightly) more interesting as a character study than as a supernatural horror film.

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