February 3, 2008

Movie Review: The Eye (2008)

Back in the early years of this decade the Pang brothers, Danny and Oxide, were riding high on the success of a pair of Thai films, Bangkok Dangerous and Bangkok Haunted. On the basis of those theatrical hits, the twins took to their native Hong Kong and delivered the creepy horror film called Gin gwai. The film proved to be a hit and went on to spawn a pair of sequels, released in 2004 and 2005 (not to mention a third sequel currently in production with Tsui Hark directing), the Pangs have since made their English language debut with the lackluster The Messengers. It has even been reimagined in India as a film called Naina.

Now, considering the popularity of Japanese horror in Hollywood these days, it should come as no surprise that the rights were snapped up and an English language remake was set on course. That brings us to today, the remake has been released to theaters nation wide and the film is set to unleash the terror of the eyes upon an unsuspecting public. Does it work? Well, that depends on what you are looking for, but the short answer is that it is good enough, but definitely could have been better.

It has been a number of years since I have seen the original, so many of the details have escaped my memory. I am rather happy that turned out to be the case, that made it much easier to go in with a relatively clean slate. You know how these things tend to go, you watch a film, you like it and become somewhat emotionally attached to it. When a remake, or reimagining, comes out your natural reaction is to reject this new interloper that is threatening to mar your memories of the original. Nobody likes to have someone tell them their memories are wrong, even if that is not the goal. It is all about perception. My lack of detailed memories of the original allowed me to perceive this remake as slightly more fresh, and likely helped with my overall enjoyment.

At the center of The Eye is the concept of cellular memory, the theory that memory can be found imprinted on the cellular level. This would lead to transplant recipients to possibly have memories or cravings that originated with the donor. Doubt and controversy surround the thought that this could be a real thing, and to this point there has been no hard evidence and no scientific studies regarding the phenomenon. Well, there is nothing that I found anyway. Despite no consensus on the possibility, it still remains an intriguing enough idea to be fodder for the cinematic mill.

If you couldn't tell already, the organ causing the memories in this film are the eyes, more specifically, the corneas. Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba) is a young woman who has been living with blindness since her childhood, but a corneal transplant seems to be her key back to the land of the seeing. At first, the operation appears to be a success, but before too long strange things begin to happen. Sydney begins to see things, her room is changing and she is having strange visions. What does it all mean, and what is the connection to the donor?

That sums up the plot. What follows after that are the attempts to figure out what she is seeing and trying to separate reality from illusion. Surprisingly, it works out rather well for most of the film.

Co-director's David Moreau and Xavier Palud do a good job of building atmosphere in their second outing, their first since the 2006 French thriller called Ils (aka Them). There is a slow-burn build throughout most of the movie leading to an explosive finale. They take their time constructing this world around Sydney. We are allowed to experience what Sydney is experiencing. We walk alongside her as she moves about her routine and continue to do so as she comes out of surgery and must make heads or tails of the new sensory input. What is real? What isn't? Why doesn't anyone believe her when she speaks of what she sees? In addition to that, they handle the scares in an effective manner. Sure, a few of them could have been a bit creepier, but for the most part they succeed in creating atmosphere in a more understated way, where another director may resort to more in your face shocks.

What truly lets the film down is the screenplay by Sebastian Gutierrez. Yes, it reveals all that needs be revealed, but the manner in which it is layed out is a little too specific. The story does not reveal itself through dialogue and action, it is revealed through dialogue. The dialogue is bad, and the performances, while not great, are set loose to drift through the plot while speaking dialogue without conviction. A good example of this would be the opening voiceover delivered by Jessica Alba, it is not delivered all that well, but the bigger problem is that it is so matter of fact and completely without subtlety.

Besides the way the script lays everything on the table, there is an element of the plot that is easy to accept as you sit in the theater watching it play out, but upon post-viewing reflection begins to fall apart. I cannot say too much, but it involves both the central concept of cellular memory and what she sees. If you think about that concept, which is discussed, albeit briefly, in the film and how it relates, specifically, to what she sees. You see, the two don't exactly jibe. When, if, you see the film think about what the concept states and try to reconcile that with what the rest of the film shows you.

Bottomline. No, the concept does not hold up to close scrutiny. However, the film succeeds at creating a strong atmosphere and really sinks you into the increasingly disturbing events. Easily a step up from One Missed Call, but does not reach the levels of The Ring or The Grudge. I have to come down and say that I enjoyed the film, faults and all.

Mildly Recommended.


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