Another month, another unnecessary remake of an Asian horror movie. Arriving on the heels of the dismal "One Missed Call
," "The Eye" is at least a bit more dignified, cleanly telling its story and doing it with a modicum of know-how. Unfortunately, the film sorely pales in comparison to 2003's Hong Kong original "Gin Gwai." That one was rich in mood and fraught with intentionally drawn-out, tension-filled scenes that genuinely frightened and got under the skin. This updated edition is quite faithful until the dumbed-down Americanized ending, yet time and again the treatment is inferior. Especially disappointing is that behind the camera are French directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud, who previously made 2007's white-knuckle suspenser "Them
" ("Ils"); their genre talents have obviously been homogenized for their U.S. debut.
Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba) is independent, self-sufficient, and a practicing professional violinist, to boot. She also has been blind since a fireworks accident at the age of five. Pressed by caring older sister Helen (Parker Posey), she goes under the knife for a corneal transplant and awakes with the gift of gradually increasing sight. As Sydney struggles to adjust to a way of life she has virtually never known before, she begins seeing haunting paranormal visions and receiving traumatic hallucinations involving fire that she does not yet understand the meaning of. Once Sydney has finally convinced skeptical doctor Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola) that she is not simply imagining things, the two of them set out to locate the identity of her cornea donor, whose past life she may be living.
"The Eye" is a slow-burning thriller that turns into a series of predictable ghost-movie trappings by the twenty-minute mark before going all maudlin and sudsy in the third act. The scare scenes, nearly all of them the equivalent of some like-minded moments from the Chinese original, lack the all-important sense of timing that makes or breaks these kinds of films. Save for a single startling moment involving a lunging supernatural figure, there is nothing to get worked up about, each scene (such as one set on an elevator) only serving to remind how much better it was done the first time.
Indeed, there is only one aspect of "The Eye" that improves upon its predecessor, and that is in the abilities of directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud, along with cinematographer Jeff Jur (2001's "Joy Ride
"), to explore and depict the realities of a blind person who suddenly can see again. As Sydney gets acquainted with this new sense, she is bombarded with the faces of people she knows and cannot completely give up her old ways (i.e. she still reads in Braille and hits the auditory function on her alarm clock to check the time). A strong-willed go-getter with intelligence and a shade of vulnerability, Sydney is a notable protagonist whose life is more well-rounded than, say, the cookie-cutter one lived by Shannyn Sossamon's character in "One Missed Call
With a stronger actress in the lead role of Sydney, this part could have really cooked. As is, Jessica Alba continues to prove that she can be cute and endearing in lightweight comedies (like 2007's "Good Luck Chuck
") but hasn't the dramatic weight or prowess to fill out serious roles like this and the femme fatale
she played in 2007's "Awake
." Alba's facial expressions range from scared to listless to strained, not all of which she convincingly pulls off. As confidante Dr. Paul Faulkner, Alessandro Nivola (2005's "Junebug
") is bland to the point of nondescription; his participation in the story is next to superfluous. And, as sister Helen, Parker Posey (2006's "For Your Consideration
") shows up for a few days' work and runs with a studio paycheck no doubt large enough to keep her secure as she searches for smaller, riskier, more interesting projects. Still, it's a shame that someone like Posey has to play insignificant second-tier to Alba. Come to think of it, their roles should have been swapped.
Normally in the horror arena, a film tends to kick up the level of suspense as it rounds the corner and heads toward the climax. In "The Eye," plot points are never dealt with (such as a dead boy who roams Sydney's apartment building searching for his report card) and the creepy element goes slack the moment the setting switches to Mexico. The finale, meanwhile, is a cop-out of sunshine and roses and hasn't hardly any of the pathos of the tougher, less compromising "Gin Gwai." Filmmakers David Moreau and Xavier Palud aren't without promise, but like the Pang Brothers last year with "The Messengers
," their cerebral artfulness has not yet found a way to sneak by the jaws of the major studio system. In Hollywood, if you're not like everything else out there, you better start conforming. That's "The Eye" in a nutshell.