You could be forgiven for thinking that the film industry had run out of ideas. The noughties have seen studios once again embracing sequels and trilogies as if they were going out of fashion. Even undeserving pictures such as Fantastic Four and Bruce Almighty have been afforded the follow up treatment, whilst long defunct series such as Die Hard, Rambo and Rocky have all been reinvented for 21st century audiences. Similarly, a plethora of remakes (or “reinterpretations”) have flooded the marketplace, many to critical and commercial acclaim, particularly Martin Scorcese’s award-laden The Departed (a brutal re-imagining of Hong Kong’s Infernal Affairs). And it is Asian cinema in particular that industry has latched onto for inspiration, with French duo David Moreau and Xavier Palud’s The Eye following The Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water into Asian horror remake territory, with their interpretation of 2002 Pang Brothers picture.
A terrifying prologue of a harrowing suicide leads to the introduction of our protagonist, blind classical concert violinist Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba) who subsequently undergoes a double corneal transplant despite leading a full, successful and independent life. Initial hope and promise gives way to fear and desperation when Sydney’s new found sense of sight seems to expose far more than the real world. Supported (and indeed doubted) by her sister Helen (a doting Parker Posey) and ocular specialist Dr. Paul Faulkner (a rather unsympathetic Alessandro Nivola), Sydney begins to doubt her own perception of reality and sanity as she is haunted by violent visions, detailed flashbacks and horrifying glimpses of spiritual apparitions.
Sydney – overwhelmed by the increasingly blurring lines between the actual and the spiritual world and questioning her very identity – begins to delve into the mysterious past of her corneal donor, convinced that “her” eyes hold the key to uncovering the meaning behind the visions and flashbacks. Up to this point, Moreau and Palud’s direction evokes an overriding sense of suspense and the first act is suffused with tense, nervy moments. An elevator scene featuring a mysterious floating figure and another with a young boy in a raincoat obsessing over his report card are particularly eerie and atmospheric.
However, there is an evident shift in tone as the action is then transferred to Mexico. Seemingly, the initially highly sceptical Dr. Faulkner is suddenly entirely convinced by Sydney’s condition, so much so in fact he puts his livelihood at risk, as he helps her uncover the mystery surrounding Sydney’s donor. In addition, the plot begins to resemble that of Final Destination (right down to digital alarm clock detail), as Sydney seeks to prevent an unmitigated disaster in a final pay off that feels both tacked on and a little unnecessary.
That said, Alba’s Sydney is deserving of credit as she lends credence and authenticity to the role and whilst a stronger supporting cast may have suffocated her performance, Sebastian Gutierrez’s sparse screenplay allows Alba to shine. Moody, bleak visuals, inventive use of sound and impressive visual effects (particularly during Sydney’s bedroom flashback scenes) ensure that The Eye is choked with atmosphere. What’s more, The Eye touches on interesting concepts of self-perception, identity, mental illness and the fascinating theory of cellular memory. Given then that The Eye succeeds where so many genre remakes have fallen down (The Grudge and Dark Water spring to mind), it is frustrating that the denouement feels rushed and lazy. It is a relief therefore that the surprisingly strong opening act does just about enough to salvage what could have been labelled as just another cash-cow remake.
(originally features at http://www.cinemattraction.com on 16/04/08)