An imagined conversation deep within the halls of Lionsgate’s marketing department, a year or so ago…
SUIT 1: Curses! Those dastardly critics have finally realized that when we don’t show one of our horror movies to them in advance, that means it sucks!
SUIT 2: Screw ‘em. Critics all hate horror movies anyway. Besides, that godawful EPIC MOVIE did fine for Fox with no reviews.
SUIT 1: Yeah, for like one day, until people realized the critics were right. They’re starting to catch on! Now the public has some idea that movies not screened for review are bad!
SUIT 2: Hmmmm….Hey, I have an idea. Let’s just never show any of our horror movies to critics, ever. That way they’ll be faked out, and have no idea whether the movie really sucks or not! Plus, we’ll sell about 40 more tickets by making them pay!
SUIT 1 (suddenly becoming a Guinness commercial): Brilliant!
SUIT 2: Brilliant! (both proceed to get drunk).
Yes, this is a long-winded way of saying that just because Lionsgate doesn’t screen a horror movie for review, doesn’t mean it sucks, even if sometimes it does. This week, we have THE EYE, and it doesn’t suck. It’s far from brilliant, but as weekend multiplex popcorn fare, it mostly gets the job done.
It took long enough to remake the 2003 Thai horror movie from the Pang brothers, but the delay is all for good. Back when the original came out (see my review here, if you like), it felt like a trend-jumper that cribbed heavily from DARK WATER and THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. Since then, DARK WATER got its own terrible, horrible remake, and most people have forgotten about it. The Pang brothers came to Hollywood and made THE MESSENGERS, which everyone pretty much hated. And Lionsgate hired the directing team of David Moreau and Xavier Palud, fresh off the cult hit ILS (THEM) to bring THE EYE to American audiences with Jessica Alba in the lead. I know you’re probably thinking that hiring Jessica Alba to star in a movie where she never puts on a swimsuit or does some kind of underwear dance is a waste, but I have to be honest, she’s not terrible here – better, in fact, than Jennifer Lopez in any of her recent performances.
One constant of American remakes is that they have no room for ambiguity, so everything has to be explained ad nauseum, ergo it isn’t sufficient for this movie to simply have as its premise a blind girl who gets an eye transplant and then starts seeing ghosts. Seriously, what’s complicated about that? But just so we’re absolutely clear on how it might be scientifically plausible to see ghosts with transplanted eyes, we have to be told that it’s because of stem cell advances, and something called “cellular memory” that we actually have defined word-for-word with both an onscreen visual and a voice-over of Jessica reading it. I’d repeat it here, but I tuned out. It doesn’t freakin’ matter HOW she sees ghosts, because this is a HORROR movie and I accept that she can, a’ight?
Also in the vein of too much explaining, the movie begins and ends with a paragraph’s worth of musings read by Alba, beginning with the phrase “People say seeing is believing…” and going on to explain how ironic that all is to her because she’s blind. And then she says she really wants to be able to see music. Pardon my sense confusion, but isn’t that something heard rather than seen? Again, I get that she’s blind, and her saying so adds no new information. Since Jessica’s not exactly the master of dramatic narration either, it’s kinda pointless.
Especially so considering how the original EYE grabbed our attention – it starts with a total fake-out where you think there’s maybe been a projector fuck-up and the film’s melted (bonus realism comes if you watch the movie in a screening room that has previously made such errors, which I did). Just as you’re ready to grumble to your feet to complain, there’s a loud soundtrack sting and a disembodied head with freaky eyes flashes onscreen. Best scare in the movie, though it probably doesn’t work so well on DVD. Moreau and Palud didn’t even try to duplicate it, although they pretty much copy the original beat-for-beat in every other way.
It probably sounds like I hate the movie already, but I really don’t. The atmosphere of the film is mostly top-notch, and as I said before, Alba’s pretty decent, and she needs to be, because this movie is basically all her. There’s a moment of pandering when she takes a shower and we see a naked outline through frosted glass, followed by close-ups of her putting on clothes, all of which almost certainly use a body double, but no matter, the audience cheered loudly.
So yeah, she plays a classical violinist who gets new eyes, and starts seeing crazy stuff (and hearing it too – corneal transplants magically affect the ears as well, don’cha know) that falls into two categories: ghosts stuck in a routine over and over, and ghosts recently deceased getting taken away to the afterlife by shadows of Roswell aliens with fangs (it’s creepier than it sounds, maybe).
The mood is levied somewhat by unintentional humor, all of which is derived from the film’s insistence on pretending that Alba is totally Caucasian. In a really odd bit of casting, Parker Posey plays her sister, who at one point, when the eyes are new, asks “Am I how you pictured?” Uhhh, probably not, since you’re rather obviously of a DIFFERENT ETHNICITY! Later, Alba goes down to Mexico with the very white Alessandro Nivola (Italian name, yes, but he’s from Boston and is really pale), and he has to translate Spanish dialogue for her. Not to say that every half-Mexican woman in the world has to know Spanish, but it’s odd to see him doing the translating and not even commenting on the irony.
Turns out those corneas came from a tiny backwater village in Mexico. See the shit that happens when organ banks outsource?
Anything else to bag on? Oh yeah, the climax features one really laughable effects shot, which is unfortunate.
After all this, am I telling you to go see THE EYE anyway? Yeah, maybe. If you have a date and want something pretty to look at that’ll occasionally make both of you jump in your seats and possibly get her grabbing your arm, this should work. Honestly, the original wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and this is at about the same level. The shocks work, even if not everything else does.
On a personal note: Dear parents who brought their elementary-school-aged kids to the midnight show at The Block – this is a horror movie, and it’s a school night. Shame on you.