The Eye

By David Mumpower

July 28, 2003

Bless you!

Horror is one of the trickiest genres to do well. Dismissing the cheap teen chaser flick out of hand as ritualistic and tired, we are left to explore more impacting films that are not instantly dismissed as soon as the viewer leaves the theater. A truly impacting piece should be memorable for weeks and months to come. The best examples such as The Exorcist or The Blair Witch Project create an existing sort of terror that a person may never completely dismiss from their mind's eye. Such is the power of this genre that it might grow to become a part of a person's night terror. Rarely is this accomplished, but occasionally a piece is created which manages to penetrate the psyche and become a lurking horror within. From Thailand, there comes such a film, and it is called The Eye.

The Eye has it. Sorry, I couldn't resist the atrocious wordplay, but the comment stands. Whenever one describes the mercurial nature of a good horror flick, it's difficult to accurately state the ambiance that is the real selling point. Instead, we as viewers are left telling our friends "ooh, it' s really cool! You gotta see it!" while never being to describe the why of it. In this case, though, it's easier than normal to quantify the it. The premise of The Eye is one of the finest ever.

A young blind woman named Mun (played by rising starlet Angelica Lee) has just participated in an experimental surgery to transplant the corneas from a deceased donor into her tissue in order to stimulate her optic nerve. When she awakens, there are blurry pictures in front of her for the first time since she lost her vision at the age of two. She is only a few weeks of visual training away from having fully restored sight and yet, the situation could be better.

Since she is a novice to the processing of visual pictures, she has no basis for comparison when strange images occasionally appear. There is that foreboding feeling in the pit of her stomach which indicates that the man in black who keeps appearing right before people die might not be normal but, since he keeps disappearing before she can point him out to others, she believes that fear remains unfounded. Plus, when she attempts to describe the more exotic details of her visions, her mother, sister and doctor keep acting like she's a mental patient. How is she going to get to the bottom of this when she doesn't know what's real and no one else believes her?

As written and directed by the Pang Brothers, The Eye accurately depicts the menace of loneliness and abandonment that stems from isolation and lack of independence. Mun has been sheltered all of her life due to her disability but now that she has recently gained the capability to see, she is still treated as a helpless child assumed to be letting her imagination run away with her. The reality is much more sinister but only we, the voyeuristic viewers, know the truth about what it is that Mun can actually witness that no one else can.

Appropriate for a film about the human eye and how the mind processes its visual stimuli, The Eye is one of the most gorgeous movies you'll ever see. A lush canvas of colors is used to best represent what a sublime world Mun is now able to appreciate. When she has her "encounters,” a clever blurring effect demonstrates the change to the black and white realm of shadows whose inhabitants should be invisible to the eye. During the best usages in the film, the hairs on the back of my neck stood at rapt attention. It is in exactly this manner that the Pangs subversively exhibit the tricks of the mind and the way it may be encompassed by all of the other senses. As I am witness to intentionally provocative sequences, I know I shouldn't respond and yet my body betrays me still. The Eye is exactly that sort of mind-fuck.

Mun is similarly tortured by her rational mind being overwhelmed, and the best representation of this occurs in the elevator scene. As she starts to ride it to the 14th floor where she lives, she notices the presence of something that shouldn't be on the train. At first unsure of her vision, she checks a monitor that verifies that the elevator is in fact empty. When she looks back and sees that the corporeal form is still visible, a panic sweeps across her. She very much wants to ride in order to disprove her fears once and for all yet that palpable apprehension within her which immobilizes her body, forcing her to wait for the next elevator. The schism exists within her about whether to trust her rational thoughts or the gut instinct which screams of survival.

In discussing The Eye, I have mainly focused upon the concept and its execution but it would be counter-productive of me to ignore the excellent acting of Angelica Lee in this role. She has won multiple awards for the performance and justifiably so, as she draws the viewer into her waking nightmare thanks to the understated manipulation of her facial features. She manages to magnify the intensity of the scenes by seemingly drawing the viewer straight inside her eye to bear witness to the maddening visions she is processing. In the same breath, she encompasses more depth by transferring the viewer into her head so that we can see the wheels spinning inside about what she shouldn't be seeing that her eyes are telling her is there. It's a tour de force role, and she aces it.

From a wider perspective, the key to this movie's success will be whether or not you accept the tone of it. I am certain that some people will grow bored by the methodical pacing and refuse to get drawn into the murky realm which may or may not be Mun's imagination. Slasher flick fans will be largely disappointed by the lack of action shots and chase scenes. The Eye is meant for a different clientele, people who enjoy more cerebral assaults. To those who relish the fear of the unknown, this is one of the finest efforts in recent memory, and it's obvious why a bidding war recently ensued for the Hollywood rights to the project. In the hands of skilled artisans such as the Pangs, this concept is the rarest of movies in this day and age. The Eye is art.

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