The Eye
Director
,
Cast
, , ,
Rated
PG-13
Runtime
97 min.
Release Date
02/01/2008
the eye

Americans are attracted by (Americanized) foreign mysticism inherent to remakes of East Asian horror. We are not a spiritual or superstitious society; for us, ghosts exist largely in the realm of entertainment, as opposed to deep-rooted systems of faith, thus their effectiveness surely lessens on our audiences. Specific cultural beliefs are lost in translation. Dime-a-dozen remakes reduce such ghost stories to schlocky teenager fare that sustain one high-buck weekend at the box office and then die out, forgotten as they should be. The Eye, originally a Hong Kong smash by The Pang Brothers, is no exception, but it remains less congealed than your average East Asian remake as a result of the troubled production and a star incapable of relating dramatic tension.

The story begins with Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba), a young, sightless violinist whose life changes when a corneal transplant offers her the chance to see again. Blind since she was five due to a firecracker accident caused by her sister Helen (Parker Posey), Sydney’s operation goes off without a hitch, leaving her blurry-eyed and adjusting to all five senses again. Helping reincorporate sight into her sensory intake, Dr. Paul (Alessandro Nivola) is assigned to her.

Troubles begin almost immediately, as her fuzzy vision reports phantom images, no doubt ghostly in nature. As she lies recovering in her hospital bed, the patient with which she shares the room gets up one night, escorted out by a dark figure. She can only see impressions at this point, so it is impossible to tell why or with whom her roommate is leaving. The following morning, she’s told the fellow patient is gone, having died the night before.

Even when her sight clears as her healing progresses, Sydney’s eyes play tricks on her. Random flashes of fire and people screaming appear thanks to the movie’s quick editing. She’s hounded by what she believes to be the ghost of a young boy who lived in her apartment building. The recently-dead are readily visible to her, and are always led away by creepy Death-like figures. She insists there’s something wrong with her new eyes, but Dr. Paul is adamant that it’s all in her head. (Note: Since both eyes communicate these ghostly images, why is the title singular rather than pluralized?)

We never buy Sydney’s relationships in the movie, as supplementary characters seem to be there as filler only. Posey’s role as the sister is utterly pointless, offering nothing by way of growth to either the plot or Sydney (certainly a waste of Posey, otherwise a fine talent). And Sydney’s rapport with Dr. Paul remains forced; they’re virtually swooning in a romance that never blossoms, leaving us wondering why they were so touchy-feely throughout the entire picture.

Jessica Alba has assembled one of the least impressive résumés for someone so lauded over. Nevermind that she agreed to filmic waste like Awake and Good Luck Chuck; young men are willing to overlook her off-key acting and poor choice of roles because she’s a pretty face. Why not pine over someone with talent? Her stale delivery is best illustrated in the end-capping narration, in which Alba prattles off the meaning of the movie without the slightest dramatic pause. Screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez wrote this insultingly revealing voice-over, because it seems he could not conceive how to show us such details. A good movie shows and does not tell, but this horror flick does exactly the opposite.

The movie moves along at a slow pace, never sustaining any forward motion. Instead, it circles around Sydney’s struggle, showing us the same fuzzy ghost images over and over, building to nothing until its sudden conclusion. Only in the third act does Sydney realize she should’ve been asking where her eyes came from—a question we were asking five minutes after her surgery. Perhaps you remember the John Carpenter made-for-TV movie Body Bags, specifically the Tobe Hooper segment entitled “Eye” (the singular noun accurate), wherein Mark Hamill’s character receives an ocular transplant? Hamill takes on characteristics of his donor, a psychotic serial killer, and begins seeing dead bodies everywhere, later wanting to make a few bodies dead himself. Same idea here, called cellular memory, except Hooper knew to exploit the concept for everything it’s worth.

Helmed by not one but two directors, David Moreau and Xavier Palud, The Eye was subject to a number of reshoots and rewrites and so forth. In the resulting wreck, we see evidence of two potential movies, both better than the existing picture: The first is a drama about a woman haunted by the ability to see again, about her inability to adjust to a new sense, as she is no longer viewed as “special” because she no longer perseveres through disability. The second is a ghost story about using the gift-curse of her haunted eyes to save the soon-to-be dead. Neither plot coagulates, leaving us with a runny mess reminiscent of better (yet still dim) movies like The Grudge and The Ring.

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