The Eye
By: Craig Villinger on April 14, 2008  |  Comments ()  |  Bookmark and Share

Directors: David Moreau, Xavier Palud
Starring: Jessica Alba, Alessandro Nivola, Parker Posey, Rade Serbedzija
Screenplay: Sebastian Gutierrez
Country: USA
Distributor: Paramount
Running Time: 98 minutes
OFLC Rating: M (Moderate supernatural themes)

The glut of successful horror movies from the Asia region in the late nineties/early noughties has been a goldmine for Hollywood, one that it will no doubt continue to excavate until the very last shiny nugget (or dull turd) has been extracted and milked for all its worth. The first three months of 2008 alone has seen the release of no less than three Americanized Asian fright flicks in US cinemas (yes, that's one a month just in case you needed me to do the math – a pretty good batting average, even by Hollywood standards), with The Eye, a remodelling of the well received 2002 Hong Kong chiller Gin Gwai (which had already spawned several sequels) being the first of these to arrive in Australia.

Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba) had been blind since the age of five, but a successful cornea transplant has given her the gift of sight once again. Soon after the bandages come off however Sydney begins seeing some freaky shit, like deathly figures that chase her down darkened hallways and people running around with much more than their pants on fire, but how is she supposed to know what's real and what's not? As the "I See Dead People" blues begin to take a serious toll on her sanity, Sydney turns to a knowledgeable quack (Alessandro Nivola) for assistance, and together the pair get down to the business of discovering the true meaning behind this recent spookiness. Are her ghostly visions nothing more than a side-effect of the transplant operation, or has she received some sort of extra sensory abilities from the previous owner of her new peepers?

Even taking into account that fact that, every so often, Hollywood remakes of Asian fright flicks manage to out-do the original (The Ring being a prime example) I went into this latest Americanisation with zero expectations. Actually, I was pretty much dragged reluctantly into the cinema, and in hindsight this was clearly the best way to approach The Eye as it ended up being a surprisingly efficient time killer.

Screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez doesn't deserve much of the credit though as his dialogue is about as lively as a Babel Fish translation of the original Chinese language screenplay, and most of the story elements that do work are the ones that were taken wholesale from the original. As an adaptation his script follows the basic guidelines set forth by every Hollywood remake of an Asian horror film, be they good or bad: dumb it down, and crank up the cheap scares. The whole story has a bit of a generic assembly line feel to it, and even if you haven't seen the original it will all feel so familiar. To be blunt, the film probably would have been a dismal failure had it been given to someone like a fresh out of film school music video director, but luckily it is elevated from potential nothingness by its talented helmers, David Moreau and Xavier Palud. The French duo, who have been earning big wraps for their debut effort Ils (Them) clearly know how to create an unsettling atmosphere, and several set pieces in the first two acts where Alba is spooked by spectral assailants proved to be genuinely creepy, with the tension heightened by some excellent sound design. Their well staged, but admittedly cheap "Boo!" scares also scored big fright points, with unsuspecting audience members sending their popcorn flying on more than one occasion. As directors it's seems as though Moreau and Palud have a bright future ahead of them, and now that they've gone through the Hollywood right-of-passage by working as guns for hire on a generic remake let's hope they go on to bigger and better projects instead of simply churning out more remakes.

In spite of the obvious talent of the directors shining through in parts however nothing could have stopped The Eye from slipping during its latter stages. As a collection of scary, low-key set-pieces it worked well early on, but once the story began to take on a larger scale and all the puzzle pieces began falling into place my interest waned, especially once the inevitable Hollywood-ized conclusion became apparent. As a whole the final act is pretty weak, and after some solid frights in the first two acts the film doesn't live up to its potential.

Performance wise, Jessica Alba does an admirable job in the lead role and shows that she might actually be more than just wooden eye candy, but the rest of the cast clearly have their minds on the pay cheque they'll be collecting at the end of the day. Nivola's lack of interest is readily apparent as he is about as emotive as a garden gnome, while the normally spirited Parker Posey is given nothing to do in a couple of brief scenes as Alba's doting sister. And Speaking of Alba, fans of her famed bod may be disheartened to learn that she keeps it covered up for much of The Eye's running time. In fact, the film never pushes the limits of its M classification, with no gore or profanity to speak of, although hardcore bloodletting really isn't needed to make an Asian styled fright flick such as this work effectively.

It's directed with a degree of skill, and Jessica Alba is likeable in the lead role, but even so I'm hesitant to give The Eye a fully fledged recommendation as it is a little too inconsistent. Check it out on tight arse Tuesday by all means, but if that's not possible it might be best to wait for a DVD rental, especially since it will probably be released in some sort of "unrated" version with a few seconds of extra gore and perhaps a few more glimpses of Alba flesh. Fans of the original should probably avoid it altogether, as the ending in particular is bound to get the blood boiling.

A bit of useless trivia to conclude this review: the idea behind the films basic premise, Cellular Memory (the belief that things like memories and habits from the previous owner can be passed on to recipients when human body parts are transplanted), is generally dismissed as poppy cock by most of the scientific community.
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