Dir: David Moreau and Xavier Palud . US. 2008. 97 mins.
Jessica Alba may be easy on the eyes, but a lack of dramatic heft makes her hard on The Eye - yet another American remake of a successful Asian horror film which never rises above the level of mediocre dread. Though assisted by a couple of distinguished indie actors in supporting roles, this forgettable spookfest about a blind woman whose corneal operation goes very wrong will haunt theatres for a few weeks until crossing over into the ancillary hereafter.
Opening in the US last Friday without advanced screenings, The Eye reaped an estimated $13m on a weekend when many Americans shift their attention to the Super Bowl (and, this year, the Hannah Montana juggernaut). It's becoming a tradition for this particular frame to counter-program with a female-centric horror offering: A year ago, The Messengers, collected $14.7m in its first weekend, on its way to $35.4 domestically and an additional $19.6 internationally, and in 2006, When A Stranger Calls opened to $21.6m, finishing with $47.9m domestically and $19.1m internationally.
Though her profile has been significantly boosted thanks to her involvement in the comic-book adaptation Sin City and the Fantastic Four franchise, Jessica Alba has proved an uncertain box-office factor in her own right. Last year's Good Luck Chuck netted just over $35m domestically, and her first starring vehicle, the 2003 drama Honey, brought in only $30m in the States. The Eye appears unlikely to stray far from those totals, although with Cloverfield its only genre competition, it at least enjoys a clear playing field.
Internationally, where the film will expand through the spring, Alba's celebrity and audience's familiarity with the original directed by the Pang brothers will be the strongest draws. (It's also worth noting that the Fantastic Four films and Sin City grossed more overseas than in America.) But the almost-certain tepid reviews will undoubtedly hamper this Lionsgate/Paramount Vantage release's earning potential. Look for DVD sales and rentals to be unremarkable, though horror aficionados might sample it to get a glimpse of Alba's lithe figure.
Blind violinist Sydney (Alba) undergoes an operation to receive new corneas, which allows her to see for the first time since losing her sight at age five. But despite the support of her ophthalmologist (Alessandro Nivola) and sister Helen (Parker Posey), Sydney has a hard time adjusting to her restored vision, especially when she starts seeing strange things: the ghosts of the newly deceased, formless grim-reaper creatures collecting souls, and images of a horrible fire consuming a building with people inside. Believing that her visions are the memories of the cornea donor, Sydney decides to uncover her identity for answers.
The Eye, adapted from Oxide Pang and Danny Pang's 2002 film, which inspired several sequels, is like similar Asian horror efforts (such as The Ring and One Missed Call) where an unexplainable, evil supernatural occurrence forces an ordinary person to seek out its origins in the hopes of ending its reign of terror. But rather than seeming like an instantly relatable everywoman, Alba's Sydney is an empty vessel. Using her blindness as an attempt to draw sympathy and her musical acumen as a suggestion of her artistic temperament, screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez (one of the writers of Snakes On A Plane) draws Sydney in only the broadest strokes, which leaves Alba, with her lightweight presence, to fend for herself unsuccessfully.
In their American debut, French directing team David Moreau and Xavier Palud (2006's Them) early on recognize that Sydney's difficult adjustment to her new eyes can create potentially unsettling visual scenarios. Aided by cinematographer Jeffrey Jur, The Eye features frequent use of Sydney's unfocused POV, filling the screen with blurry images that may be friend or foe. Unfortunately, it becomes apparent rather quickly that Moreau and Palud will manufacture most of their scare tactics from a tired horror device: the jarring jump into view of a sinister figure. (In addition, The Eye may set some cinematic record for the amount of scenes in which its heroine experiences terrible physical harm only to discover - wham! - it was all a dream.) To be fair, they artfully handle a clever reveal about halfway through, but those who know the original film will have already seen it coming.
Additionally, the filmmakers miss an intriguing possibility by never raising any doubt that Sydney's disturbing visions are authentic. Questioning Sydney's perceptions - not to mention her sanity - could have clouded the audience's sympathies and introduced a fun bit of 'Is this real or not'' questioning. Instead, the film's plot merely becomes a long wait for Sydney to piece together clues so that the mystery can be solved.
While it may be unfair to dismiss Jessica Alba as just a pretty face, the cruel fact remains that as an actress she continues to struggle to establish an identity. Whether trying her hand in comedy in Good Luck Chuck or more dramatic terrain here, she doesn't come across as vacuous - 'uncomfortable' would be a better way of putting it. Interestingly, her best performance probably occurred in Sin City, in which she played a pulpy, sexy young stripper character that was intentionally cartoonish in its design. Playing regular people proves more of a challenge for her, and in The Eye she fails to convince as a gifted, self-sufficient woman who longs to have her vision restored so that she can feel normal.
Despite the fact that it wasn't screened in advance - usually a sign that a studio has no confidence in its product - The Eye actually boasts a decent supporting cast in Alessandro Nivola (marvellous in Junebug) and Parker Posey, the unofficial queen of indie actresses. While they add a certain amount of gravitas, their performances in The Eye feel perfunctory simply because there's not much creative invention possible with such drab characters. It's hard not to fantasize about an imaginary, better film in which these two talented actors command the lead roles, while Alba plays the supporting part.
C/W Productions (US)
Vertigo Entertainment (US)
Based on the Chinese-language motion picture The Eye (aka Gin Gwai aka Jian Gui) by Jo Jo Yuet-chun Hui, Oxide Pang and Danny Pang
Director of photography