Julia's Eyes Blu-ray Review
My UK check disc clocks in with an immaculately composed 2.35:1 frame and comes courtesy of an AVC encode.
The image is pushed towards the blue-green end of the spectrum, resulting in a moody, highly evocative and deliberately manipulated and stylised appearance. It looks remarkably clean and sharp and detailed for the most part. Grain is present, but it is light and properly film-like, with a texture that does not seem to have been tampered with. The colour-timing seems authentic to the cinema print that came and went in the UK in the blink of an eye.
Now, I caught Julia's Eyes at a theatrical press screening, and I can recall the fuzzy grey/black clouding that bubbles about the image when we are seeing the world as Julia sees it. But, having said that, I don't think it looked quite like it does here. There is an intentional fuzziness to this darkening of her vision, like the view down a spongy tunnel, but on Blu-ray this effect seems stricken with banding and blockiness, elements that I'm sure weren't part of the image on its original presentation. So I think the transfer stumbles when handling this. Sadly, banding is also noticeable during the opening title sequence when we look up at an evocative moon edging out of some turbulent clouds. The transfer exhibits this when we see similar visions throughout the film as well.
Otherwise, contrast is great (though it has been deliberately altered in post-production) and the black levels are often impeccable. The film relies upon good shadow depth and delineation, and the encode doesn't disappoint when vast swathes of inky blackness are incorporated into the image. Colours, as I've said, are downplayed and the palette is
overtly stylised. However, for a visual look that depends on midnight blues, I found this hue to be the most problematic. This is where most of the banding resides and, as a consequence, the blues tend to look digitally processed, stippled with compression and occasionally unsightly. Lighter shades – the whites and the yellows, the browns and the greens – fare much better, though they are not the dominant factor. Red is very dark … and barely seen.
Close-up detail is wonderful. I can't complain about the clarity or the texture on offer here. Clothing material, the bandages, wood-grain, facial detail, hair and eyes – all looks very good indeed, very sharp and finite. But once characters move a little way off, there is a definite drop in appreciable clarity. Suddenly they lose some distinction. Now I know that certainly some of this is down to how Julia interprets things around her … but not all of it. We're not talking about a major drop-off in quality, but it is noticeable. Three-dimensionality and visual depth are good, however, and the framing of some of Oscar Faura's more fluid shots – the confrontation down a basement tunnel, the killer's one-take escape from the scene of a crime, or Julia's fight-and-flight throughout the house and through the grounds – is sumptuously handled.
There are no issues with edge enhancement or aliasing that I encountered. No DNR.
Now being as this is a very early check disc, we may well find that the full retail copies don't suffer from the banding as much. But I'll be checking both that and the US release, and will report back.
For now this gets a 7 out of 10.
Whilst it was often hard to disassociate Julia's Eyes from memories of The Orphanage, I feel that another comparison must now be made. So much of the power of The Orphanage was derived from the awesome sound design that it had been granted and was faithfully transferred to the BD. And now Julia's Eyes delivers the same sort of impact with a truly astonishing and almost virtuoso DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that absolutely maximises the sonic capabilities of experiencing Guillen Morales' film.
Almost certainly to go along with Julia's fading vision, the audio becomes an essential message service for the woman, and the soundmix endeavours to place us in the same league of heightened sensibility. The film is full of effects. Footsteps, crunches, crashes, impacts, creaks and groans. We are often in the setting of a creepy house (more than one, as it transpires) and, thus, in Julia's position, we are afforded lots of directionally steered sounds that move around the environment with pin-sharp clarity and seamless panning. Voices can emanate very convincingly from off-screen, distances between the speakers in the film unerringly accurate at conveying depth and spatiality. The sudden arrival from our unseen right of a stretcher being moved is startling with its metallic screeching. The thump of an unseen kill taking place in another room, and the abrupt knocking on a bathroom door are also keen examples of power, placement and ultra clarity. But listen to the amount of natural sounding ambience that takes place. Besides the positioning of the rain – always a good indicator of a track's degree of precision – we get to hear the passing of vehicles near and far, hubbub in the restaurant, the blind school and the hospital, and things like a dog barking somewhere way behind us. The other great litmus test of the rumble of thunder rolls out across the ceiling with such weight and realism that you shrink down a bit into the sofa. It's all good stuff, folks.
The sound of the sudden camera-flash going off is superb, and it is used a fair bit during the strenuous climax. Like the effect that depicts the synapse-flooding of Julia's brain as her vision swiftly ebbs during moments of high tension, it is quick, genuine and travels front to back with expert and immediately room-filling panache. Bass is excellent too. There are lots of deep impacts and sudden floorboard-dropping instances. The sub is given a good workout, even though none of this is of the typically explosive or gratuitously ballistic sort that normally seems to denote a fabulous surround mix. Deep bass smooths out across the room, suffusing you with that simmering low-level mist of gently growling resonance. There is a teasingly deep pulse that is part of the design and this, too, swells terrifically throughout the room. All of this has been very intricately thought-out and clinically mixed with both realism and heightened atmospherics in mind.
The basics and conventional elements of the track are just as accomplished. Dialogue is crystal clear and full of inflection, nuance and tonal range. The marvellous score from Fernando Velazquez is granted warmth, instrumental detail and a full-flowing range of dynamics that encompasses the higher strings with scintillating ease, the horns and woodwinds with heart and power, and the brass and percussion with appreciable depth and vigour.
In short, this is reference material. I can't find anything to complain about with this track at all. It is an utterly engrossing mix that makes full and unsettlingly realistic use of the surrounds and adds enormously to the power of the story. Plus, it is a terrific haunted house experience that consistently unhinges, startles and freaks-out.
I have to award Julia's Eyes the full 10 for its audio transfer. Awesome and sublime, this one's a winner.
Optimum have managed to procure some meagre extras for the release. But at least there's something to add to the pot.
We get some very tiny interview slots with Morales, Reuda, Homar and Del Toro, who are only given enough time to say what the story is about (Del Toro's somehow manages to make it sound simply terrible) and how much they all admire one another. None lasts more than three minutes and, unfortunately, they add little of worth. Well, it is nice to see Reuda again.
There are seven minutes' of B-roll footage to look at too. None of this really provides much insight either. We see camera set-ups, make-up being applied to Reuda, and hear some lines being run-through.
Finally, there is just the film's theatrical trailer.
Overall, this is a poor show for the UK release. We will have to see how the forthcoming US disc fares.
Julia's Eyes is a wonderful yet unmistakeably flawed movie. It doesn't matter if the plot is not wholly original because the atmosphere of menace and of obsession is realised with grim and relentless conviction. Another towering performance of heartstopping intensity from Belen Reuda anchors it. The set-pieces are profoundly gripping and the suspense is knuckle-gnawing. The fact that the story hinges upon the emotional plight, and that this is so gut-wrenchingly drawn, is its saving grace. Downright illogical actions by the central character are hugely compounded by a third act that strays too far into fantasyland and just goes on for too long.
But this show belongs to Reuda who I have to say is the horror genre's greatest asset at the moment. With her range and conviction in this and The Orphanage she surpasses the scream queens of the last few decades with supreme ease. I hope that genre filmmakers will give her a break next time around though – she's really been put through the wringer with these two anxious outings – but she is worth watching in anything.
Optimum's UK disc offers little in the way of supplemental material, and there are certainly some issues with the video transfer, but the audio mix blows all of this away with a simply tremendous, bass-loving, surround-embellished lossless experience that packs a hefty ghost-train wallop full of frights and oozing with redolent atmosphere. Although this is only a check disc, the possible banding issues with the video are still not enough to put you off one of the best psychological thrillers to have come along in quite a while.
Writer/Director Guillem Morales is certainly a talent to watch out for. If you loved The Others, The Orphanage or The Machinist, then Julia's Eyes will introduce yours to another crafty, suspenseful chill-fest that will also manage to engage the heart.
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