Danny and Oxide Pang's The Eye was a hit Asian horror from 2001 in which a woman, blind from the age of two, receives new corneas in a successful transplant operation. After getting used to her new situation she starts to notice strange apparitions that no one else can see. It turns out she's seeing the spirits of the dead. She becomes tormented by these visions. The Eye ended in a suitably finite manner leaving little scope for a sequel without some very awkward plot contrivances. Yet here we have the sequel, The Eye 2, as commercial pressure usuallyy dictates. Quite wisely though, the Pang brothers left the storyline of the first one unmolested and have started afresh with a completely new story and new characters. Only the central premise remains - an ordinary woman seeing dead people. This time it's a pregnant woman who is haunted by the dead. No eye operations, or indeed, any emphasis on eyes of any sort feature in this one. So it really is a sequel in name only.
Shu Qi plays Joey Cheng, a depressed girl vacationing in Bangkok after an acrimonious break-up with her lover Sam (Jesdaporn Pholdee) who no longer wants any contact with her. She decides to commit suicide and downs a bottle of pills. As she drifts away, shadowy figures appear in the room. Her unanswered wake up call leads hotel staff to enter her room where they discover her suicide attempt and she is rushed to hospital. A quick stomach pump and some avoided questions later, Joey zips off home to Hong Kong. However, something in her near death experience has flipped some sort of supernatural switch and she starts seeing pale, ghastly figures wandering the streets. Sometimes they notice her, other times they don't. After a disturbing and portentous incident in a subway the truth slowly dawns on Joey - these people are dead, and only she can see them. Naturally, her attempts to convince people of their existence is met with scorn and passed off as stress and hysteria. A visit to the doctor informs her she is pregnant to her ex-lover, who still avoids contact with her, even jumping into a cupboard to hide when she visits their old apartment. She decides to keep the baby nonetheless. Seeing the restless dead takes its toll on Joey, and her health suffers. As the weeks of the pregnancy turn into months, she becomes traumatised by the nasty events she witnesses, as seemingly demonic forces attempt to interfere with her. Just what do these spirits want, and what is the significance of the child she is pregnant with?
The best thing about The Eye 2 is the cinematography and the art direction. It really is a stylish film with some macabre and at times beautiful imagery. In the first 'Eye' film there was an exceedingly creepy elevator sequence and there's one here as well, and it looks stunning. As Joey looks on, trapped, an apparition of a drowned woman 'swims' into view. It's a well orchestrated sequence that really makes you feel for Joey's plight. She screams a warning as the surreal scene unfolds with the spirit impassively moving towards another vulnerable woman. But all Joey gets is remonstrated for her troubles. Joey has public transport problems as well - while she waits for a bus, a woman and her son tumble out of the sky and crash to the ground. They carry on gaily chatting with half a face and mangled bodies. A simple taxi ride is also ruined by a woman with her head on backwards. Poor Joey, who wouldn't be driven nuts by these phantoms? Shu Qi is convincing as the disturbed woman, harassed and desperate, ably conveying the turmoil and extremes her character experiences. A lesser actress could have turned the part into simple scream queen fodder. The Pang brothers direct well for the most part, keeping a subtle atmosphere of quiet dread and permeating scenes with the requisite suspense. The ghosts look excellent right from the off, their first appearance being as shadows flitting across the screen building a tangible sense of unease. All well and good. What is not so good, unfortunately, is the screenplay. The first act is fine, it introduces us to Joey and her emotional landscape with her broken relationship and her fears of motherhood and pregnancy, and of course her unwelcome ability to see spirits. The second act is where it all goes wrong, it slumps into repetition and gets rather tiring. It goes like this - Joey gets a fright, Joey freaks out, Joey goes to hospital, Joey calms down; Joey gets a fright, Joey freaks out, Joey goes to hospital, Joey calms down... repeat until fade. The film is given to slow visual exposition coupled with 'fright' sequences which start off very effectively but are let down by a lack of an ultimate destination. There is always the threat but it just doesn't deliver on it. As a horror film, The Eye 2 fails to deliver the goods. It just doesn't get under your skin. This isn't to say it's a poor film, it's not, but it's just not a horror film. It would be fairer to call it a drama with horror elements, as it ruminates on the fragility of the human condition and dwells on Buddhist ideals like reincarnation just as much as it does on trying to frighten you. It all wraps up well with the film steering back on course in the third act with a pivotal scene where we find out the reason why Sam (her lover) renounced her, and why the ghosts do what they do. Aside from a slightly absurd scene outside a hospital near the end that I found unintentionally comic (probably because it reminded me of a sketch in Chris Morris' Jam) it all ends quite poignantly. Like its predecessor The Eye 2 has plenty of visual panache, emotional content and decent acting but it just doesn't have the same impact. There just wasn't enough horror for my liking.
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