Movie Review: The Eye
By Matthew Huntley
March 22, 2008

It looks like a big enough umbrella, but will probably be me that ends up getting wet.

The Eye isn't a horror film as much as it is a drama with horror elements. It's not particularly scary, even though it tries to be, and it doesn't do much as far as emotionally investing us in its story or characters. But it does try harder than most of its kind, and there's something to be said of that given the reputation of the genre.

This is another one of those supernatural stories where a ghost tries to make contact with a living person in order to seek help or redemption (think The Sixth Sense or Stir of Echoes). Unfortunately, since this plot, and several variations of it, has been done so many times over, it's hard for this one to stay fresh and have much consequence.

The movie is a remake of the Hong Kong film Jian Gui (2002), about a blind girl who receives cornea transplants and finds her new organs grant her visual access to the spiritual world. She starts seeing dead people as well as visions of death, not to mention bluish, angry escorts who lead spirits away. Away to where? The movie isn't quite clear.

I've never seen the original film, but this American version stars Jessica Alba as Sidney, who was blinded at age five during a firecracker accident that her older sister, Helen (Parker Posey), blames herself for. Sidney is now a violinist living in Los Angeles, and I must say, if her work allows her to afford such a chic downtown L.A. apartment, I'm in the wrong business.

But never mind. Sidney has eye surgery and it's mostly successful, except it takes a while for her vision to come into focus. When it does, Sidney starts seeing inexplicable images that her ocularist (Alessandro Nivola) says are either hallucinations or the result of Sidney having been blind so long her mind can't quite grasp true reality. But what if Sidney really isn't "just seeing things"? What if her visions, like an exploding Chinese restaurant, or a little boy jumping out a window, or a dead man standing upright in the elevator, are real? What do they all mean? And what's with the dream she always has at 1:06 a.m.?

All these things should be more creepy and interesting than the movie makes them. The problem is the scenes play out too quickly, one right after the other. Directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud, and editor Jeff Gullo, don't allow sufficient time for the macabre atmosphere to soak us in and take effect. Comparing The Eye to the brilliant Spanish horror film, The Orphanage, we can see what's wrong with American horror these days - a lack of patience to envelop the audience in mood and ambience. Whereas The Orphanage relished in its surroundings and took the time to engage us, The Eye is too flashy and anxious. Just as each scene becomes moderately interesting, it resorts to standard lurid imagery and quickly moves on.

As Sidney grows desperate, she demands to know her eyes' donor, which takes her and her doctor to Mexico. She also learns of a phenomenon called "cellular memory," in which parts of the body actually remember things their host experienced. Whether "cell memory" is real or not, this is an interesting concept I wish the movie had taken more time to explore.

Instead, it bombards us with all the usual crescendos, sudden shrieks, and age-old "it was just a dream" routine. These devices are all safe and typical of the PG-13 horror genre, which has gotten unbearably stale and boring. It would have been more interesting if the movie concentrated on Sidney's newfound burden as a seer into the "other world." There are moments where you think the filmmakers will go for it, including an effective scene when Sidney's frustrations build up and she destroys all the lamps in her apartment. But ultimately, the movie succumbs to tired conventions.

Even when the climax was over, I thought, after all this, this is what Sidney was meant to do with her new "gift"? I mean, don't get me wrong, it's a good thing she does, but I found it anti-climactic after all her visions of ghosts, fires, bruises, etc. I guess I was expecting, I don't know, something bigger.

Plus, one thing the movie never explained was where the evil-looking escorts took the spirits after they died. By the looks of the escorts, it seems like everyone was destined for hell. And why were these bluish creatures so angry?

The Eye is competently made and has stronger than expected performances, but I cannot say it's worth your time. Compared to its brethren like The Sixth Sense and Stir of Echoes, it isn't nearly as compelling or unsettling. When those movies and The Orphanage raise the bar, it's a shame when The Eye, which at least tries, can't reach as high.