Julia’s Eyes (2011)

Julia’s Eyes is a taut, fraught, psychological thriller with a touch of the supernatural and a few genuinely brutal moments. Blessed with some captivating central performances, it may feel overlong in places, but it is compelling throughout. There is no irony in saying you need to see this. Julia’s Eyes is superb.

Julia’s estranged twin sister Sara is dead, having hung herself in the basement of her house. The police write it off as suicide, but Julia is not convinced, believing a chameleonic stalker is to blame for her twin’s untimely demise. Inflicted with the same degenerative disease as Sara, it is only a matter of time before Julia goes blind, and she decides to spend her final days of sight hunting down her sister’s potential killer… with disturbing and horrifying consequences.

In the past decade, Spanish cinema has had a welcome revival of the horror / thriller genre, kick-started by advocate Guillermo Del Toro, and Julia’s Eyes follows the excellent likes of Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage, [REC] and [REC] 2 in adding another impressive piece of work to the country’s recent filmic canon. From the terrifying opening scene to the brutal finale, Julia’s Eyes is compelling and thrilling, and writer / director Guillem Morales has done a brilliant job of crafting a tense, clever little psychological thriller.

The disturbing antagonist of Julia’s Eyes is superb, but revealing anything about him will spoil it. One character describes him as “an absence”, and it’s a chillingly accurate description. Pablo Derqui plays this “absence” perfectly and with a terrifying malevolence. He is excellent and provides a powerful, memorable performance.

Facing off against our antagonist is Julia, played beautifully by Belén Rueda, who gives an exhausting and astounding performance. Plaudits should shower her for passionately portraying a woman slowly going blind; proving her intricate performance in The Orphanage was not a one-off fluke.

Morales sold Julia’s Eyes to the American marketplace under the tag of “a blind woman versus the invisible man”, but for those less in need of a punchy, Ronseal tagline, Julia’s Eyes is about of number of things – from fear and loneliness to perception and family – interweaved seamlessly into a gripping and intelligent thriller. Morales is definitely a name to watch as his direction is calculated, intense and very well honed.

Morales’ direction has touches of other top director’s work, including countrymen Del Toro and Juan Antonio Bayona’s, and is occasionally reminiscent of Michael Haneke’s Hidden, especially when there are moments of sudden, extreme violence that both shock and surprise. These moments are necessary in their brutality, and it’s stunning when they do occur. Essentially Julia’s Eyes is a very scary film, with some haunting imagery as well as some genuine jump scares.

At 112 minutes Julia’s Eyes is perhaps a little too long in places, with some scenes needing trimming down or removing altogether. This is not to suggest Julia’s Eyes drags; it just feels like a lengthy piece of work that could’ve been a little tighter.

Some may also find Julia’s Eyes overly familiar in places, especially for those who’ve seen Danny & Oxide Pang’s horror The Eye (or the pointless American remake), and one of the twists will fail to surprise many modern audiences. Yet it’s a minor issue, as the story and character propels the film forwards brilliantly, and Rueda and Derqui’s performances are worth watching no matter the length of the piece.

Julia’s Eyes is ironically a “must see” film. Exciting, compelling, scary, disturbing, horribly brutal and utterly believable, Guillem Morales has created a masterful debut and given Spanish cinema another horror / thriller to be proud of. See it in the cinema if you can – you won’t be disappointed. Julia’s Eyes is superb.

Rating: ★★★★★★★★½☆

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