The Eye Review
When Channel 4 screened their “Top 100 Scariest Film Moments” several years ago I sat watching secure in the knowledge that I knew what must be in the top five. I had recently watched Oxide Pang Chun and Danny Pang's Gin gwai (2002) - the original version of tonight's feature The Eye, a tense and atmospheric horror film typical of the Asian dominance of the genre at that time; it included a scene in a lift that I have simply not seen bettered, before or since. Imagine my disbelief when said scene wasn't even mentioned in C4's rather predictable offering. My reasoning was that Gin gwai was too obscure, too new or simply unseen by the producers at the time; didn't make me feel any better though knowing that one of the defining moments of all horror scares was essentially ignored. Of course one could also argue that all American remakes essentially ignore the horror from the films on which they are based, a rather generalist sweeping statement that nevertheless holds some water and will be discussed a little later. And whilst it is generally normal for reviews to compare and contrast original and remake I will try to avoid such contrivance, except where unavoidable, and treat this discussion as an unique film; then The Eye does have some merit.
Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba) has been blind since she was five, but that has not let her lead a dull life, she is an accomplished concert violinist and has a huge circle of friends. When the chance comes for her to receive a corneal transplant she takes it but is soon overwhelmed by the amount of new information she obtains from her new sense. With encouragement from her sister Holly (Helen Wells) and the teaching expertise from Dr. Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola) her neuro-octologist she begins to teach herself about the new world in front of her. However, when Sydney begins to see things that aren't there, ghostly black figures and occurrences of death and destruction, she begins to retreat into herself until a shock revelation reveals she is seeing through someone else's eyes. Sydney convinces Paul to discover who the donor was and during a quick trip to Mexico they discover the horrifying truth behind her visions.
Directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud are quite young in terms of their filmic output and together with screen writer Sebastian Gutierrez, himself with only a few credits, have produced a reasonably effective thriller held within the confines of the commercially accepted PC-13 certificate. This creative team sticks pretty faithfully to the original screenplay as written by the Pang Brothers and Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui with little variation excepting in names and location. Our introduction to Sydney as a confident self aware lady, able to prevent injury to others despite her disability, is meant to endear our affections; she is strong, independent and accomplished, well liked and a virtuoso. In this regard Alba shines, her winning smile and confidence brimming in the cup she makes her drinks in. I never really believed she was blind though, it takes more than just dark glasses to pull that off. When things start to go bad, she draws on more depth, exposing a vulnerability, however, just as I wasn't convinced of her blindness neither was I totally convinced of her desperation. In a world where nothing you see can be believed she never really plumbs the depths of desperation and despair. At the other end of the scale, her blossoming friendship with Alicia Millstone (Chloe Moretz) - the cancerous child in the hospital - is equally as weak, especially when the breaking of this bond is the straw that broke the camels back. This is a problem because the film rests fairly and squarely on Alba's shoulders, all other character become somewhat incidental. She doesn't ruin the film by any means, it's just that to really pull you into the film Alba shows little of the vision (!) needed.
The creative team's inexperience really shows with the amount of jump scares put in, as if to somehow remind you that this is a horror/thriller, therefore you should be jumping; a better approach would have been to take a leaf from Bayona's The Orphanage (2007) which used heaps of style and substance, coupled with pace, to bring about a moody sense of dread and unease - much like the Asian horror's that influenced it. Yet here none of that dread, the inevitability, that horror exists, jump scares simply do not bring about the same effect and the film looses a lot of its would be power by pandering in this way. However, this is pretty much how all American remakes have treated their source material. Either by adding way too much exposition and unnecessary material or by throwing heaps of money into effects and straying from the original idea, I cannot name one Hollywood remake that is even a patch on its Asian original. Their only merit is they might inspire the audience to seek out and revel in the primary.
Another mistake I felt was to explain away everything as it happens, nothing is left to the audience to work out, that lack of mystery and imagination lead to a rather pedestrian join the dots type of filming, a common problem when restricting to the PG-13 rating; just because a film is aimed at the mass market, doesn't mean it's for kids. But perhaps its biggest drawback is that the film feels as if it has come out several years too late; had this been released a few years ago, even in this form, I'm sure it could have found an appreciative audience by riding the wave of Asian horror but also American home grown talent such as The Others (2001) and The Sixth Sense (1999) - the latter having very much in common with this, a point that the film makers acknowledge with a sly wink.
Now I realise I'm painting a very bleak picture of this remake and when compared that is so, however, when viewed stand alone it is actually not as bad as many would have you believe. Excepting the problems I've highlighted above, Moreau, Palud and Gutierrez stick religiously to the original script; this is a good thing, Jeff Jur manages to break out of his TV mode cinematography and creates some interesting enough frames, and, probably the best part, the film manages to maintain the possible threat of the shadow men by leaving their revelation as late as possible because once that is revealed much of the dread evaporates in much the same way as the original and, to be fair, The Sixth Sense, did. To sum up then, if you haven't seen the original, The Eye is a reasonably effective thriller if a little clumsy in its execution. And what of that most scary of scenes? Well it's here, almost shot for shot identical but somehow neither has the power or the punch to become truly memorable, much like the film whole.