Eye, The: Eerie, Supernatural Thriller

When it comes to the horror (and crime-action) genres, Asian cinema continues to serve as reliable source for American remakes. First came the transfer of “The Ring,” a successful series starring Naomi Watts, and now comes “The Eye,” a remake of the 2003 Hong Kong picture, which provides not one but two decent roles of intelligent and independent women, played by Jessica Alba and Parker Posey, who are cast as sisters.

A co-production of Lionsgate and Paramount Vantage, “The Eye” is an eerie, supernatural thriller that tests the boundaries of perception, realityand sheer madness. David Moreau and Xavier Palud direct it, the French duo that had previously made the suspenseful Gallic film, “Ils” (“Them,” not to be confused with the landmark American sci-fi of that title), which was a big hit in Europe.

Alba plays Sydney Wells, a renowned Los Angeles concert violinist, who was blinded as age 5 as a result of a childhood tragedy. When the story begins, Sydney undergoes a double corneal transplant that restores her sight after more than two decades of blindness. After the surgery, neural specialist Dr. Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola) tries to help Sydney cope with the adjustment of regaining her sight and making sense of what she begins to see. He’s aided by the support of Sydney’s elder sister, Helen (Posey), who’s also concerned with Sydney’s recovery.

The first reel of “The Eye” is rather smooth and realistic in depicting how Sydney’s world slowly comes back into focus. However, things are thrown out of the seemingly orderly control, when Sydney begins to be haunted and taunted by bizarre, frightening images. The creepy visions/hallucinations involve premonitions of death, victims tortured by ghouls, various people burning in a fire.

At first, she dismisses them as temporary side-effects of her surgery. But when the visions persist, she (and we) begins to wonder whether the visions are caused by Sydney’s mind, trying to adjust to her newly regained sight. This being a horror feature about vision, there’s a good chance that they are the products of her subjective, distorted imagination, or perhaps a manifestation of something horrifically worse–a supernatural interference

Gradually, issues of vision translate into matters of sanity/insanity. Some of Sydney’s family and friends begin to doubt her grasp of reality, and Sydney herself starts to suspect that her new eyes have opened the door to a terrifying world that only she can see.

Turning point occurs when the female eye donor, now dead, begins to appear in Sydney’s nightmares and then in her mirror, signaling something unfathomable. Film’s weakest part is Sydney’s trip to Mexico with her doctor in an effort to fathom above woman’s messages.

One of the gimmicks of Moreau and Palud’s feature debut was that the film’s short running time, 75 minutes, was almost the duration of the story’s real-time action. Their film brought to mind the early work of John Carpenter, with its elaborate mise-en-scene paying attention to the staging and pacing of the horror scenes, which were smoothly integrated into the rest of the text.

“The Eye” is less effective than “Ills,” but it still offers some shocking sights that keep you at the edge of your seat in a restless sense of anticipation due to the prevalence of an unsettling ambience and eerie disturbing tone.

Reportedly, each year, over 30,000 Americans undergo corneal transplants, which is quickly becoming a commonplace procedure. Thematically, at its best moments, “The Eye” raises the relevant questions of can we trust our eyes not to mislead us–to show things as they are And how do we know that what we see is really there In this, and other respects, “The Eye” offers a link to such supernatural horror-thriller as “The Sixth Sense”–“I see dead people”–and countless Asian horror features.

“The Eye” portrays the terrifying events that befall Sydney, after she undergoes such a procedure, gradually realizing that her new eyes have brought her new powers. Refreshingly, Sydney is not a typical heroine of the horror genre, certainly not of the slasher and gore type, which has dominated the American form, most evident in the huge commercial success of the “Saw” movie franchise.

Technically, “The Eye” is more impressive than narratively, due to the fact that the script, by the Venezuelan-born writer Sebastian Gutierrez, is a rather shallow exploration of a potentially intriguing phenomenon. Despite a good beginning, the plot gets increasingly too literal, perhaps under pressure to explain to the younger viewers (rating is PG-13) what’s essentially is–and should have remained–unexplainable.

For better or worse, visually, “The Eye” is a hybrid of European art films and Asian horror flicks, with a touch of American influence thrown into the mix.

The scenario is as uneven, erratic (and at the end banal) as the film output of its scribe, Gutierrez, whose resume includes “The Big Bounce,” based on the Elmore Leonard novel and co-starring Owen Wilson and Morgan Freeman, the noir caper “Judas Kiss,” which became his directorial debut with Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, but also the disappointing Halle Berry vehicle “Gothika” and the cheesy and campy “Snakes on a Plane.”

Trying to stretch, Alba, the beautiful star better-known for such works as “Sin City” and the “Fantastic Four” franchise, looks right but gives a so-so performance that doesn’t delve deep enough into her multi-faceted character. A more skillful actress like Naomi Watts (“The Ring”) could have done better with the role, particularly in the later chapters, when the plot calls for acting.

In secondary roles, Posey and Nivolla, and Rade Serbedzia, who plays a conductor, acquit themselves more honorably, even if there’s not enough of them on screen.

End Note

Though not a great picture, the Pang brothers’ Hong Kong horror flick has spawned a number of sequels and even an Indian remake, “Naina.”

Cast

Sydney Wells – Jessica Alba
Dr. Paul Faulkner – Alessandro Nivola
Helen Wells – Parker Posey
Simon McCullough – Rade Serbedzija

Credits

A Lionsgate release presented with Paramount Vantage of a C/W Prods. and Lionsgate production in association with Vertigo Entertainment. Produced by Paula Wagner, Don Granger, Michelle Manning.
Executive producers, Mike Elliott, Peter Chan, Roy Lee, Doug Davison, Michael Paseornek, Peter Block, Tom Ortenberg, Darren Miller.
Directed by David Moreau, Xavier Palud. Screenplay, Sebastian Gutierrez, based on the film “The Eye” directed by Oxide Pang, Danny Pang, written by Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui, Oxide Pang and Danny Pang.
Camera: Jeffrey Jur.
Editor, Patrick Lussier.
Music: Marco Beltrami; music supervisor, Jay Faires.
Production designer: James H. Spencer.
Art director: Naython Vane; supervising set decorator, Brenda Meyers-Ballard.
Costume designer: Michael Dennison.
Sound: Bayard Carey; supervising sound editor, Tom Myers; re-recording mixers, Michael Minkler, Myers.
Visual effects supervisors, Nathan McGuinness, Marc Varisco.
Visual effects: Asylum Visual Effects.
Special makeup effects and prosthetics: Matthew W. Mungle.
Stunt coordinator: Peter King.

MPAA Rating: PG-13.
Running time: 96 Minutes.