Julia's Eyes Review
With considerable stylish gusto, Guillem Morales crafts a richly visual and exquisitely cerebral murder mystery which demonstrates the vibrancy of the cream of modern Spanish horror output. This Guillermo Del Toro quality-approved product recalls the very best of Argento's thrilling early-days giallo, and despite a long running time and some moments of over-sentimentality, Morales illustrates a keen eye for thoughtful composition, stunning visuals, and deeply atmospheric lighting, delivering an end product of painfully tense thrills.
If the flair and artistry of horror has been lost amongst the crude and unimaginative shock genre pieces of today (and we all know which ones they are), then nobody has thought to inform Morales. From the chilling opening scenes, and persisting throughout the two hour running time, his touch is continually stylish and often stunning. Indeed, bearing in mind that most horror films can't (and mainly shouldn't) maintain the requisite pace for much more than 85 minutes, Morales daringly demonstrates the quality of his product by ensuring your attention is gripped firmly for the majority of the extended running time.
Perhaps the key to Morales' success in unsettling our nerves is his ability to make us empathise so strongly with his fragile yet determined protagonist, a trick he accomplishes by manipulating our perception and perspective of events so that we are left as confused as Julia, and we struggle alongside her as our vision is similarly obscured. After finding her twin sister hanged, the eponymous heroine – played with absolute conviction by Belen Rueda – launches her own investigation into her sister's apparent suicide, convinced that a boyfriend will have been responsible for her death. As Julia begins to unravel the murky layers of the mystery, her growing battle with her own degenerative visual condition mirrors her descent into the hellish world of her by now voyeuristic suspect, and its here that the sheer stylishness of the piece comes to the fore. Whether its the shadowy, unseen assailant stalking Julia (the moment where she chases him down a corridor as the florescent lights come on one by one to light her path, before she tries to see him under the light of her Smartphone, is nervy and exhilarating), the moments she spends with her unseen guide, Ivan, or the terrifying reveal later on, all scenes are delivered with precision, flair, and devastating impact.
Belen Rueda's performance alone drives the drama forward in gripping fashion, and forms a useful contrast to Lluis Homar's decent enough but slightly sentimental portrayal of partner Isaac. A colourful array of other characters ensure that the two hour running time remains stimulating, and though some plot inconsistencies creep in at the midpoint of this stylish Spanish shocker, it's not suitably disruptive enough to disturb the gloriously well-crafted and terrifying visuals.
Guillem Morales demonstrates an impressive artistic flair which proves a refreshing prospect in comparison to the more cynical of horror productions thriving on endless scenes of gratuitous and meaningless violence. Indeed, Morales' latest picture bears closer stylistic resemblance to an early Argento giallo than to its modern day peers, and for all of the explicit torture and limb-tearing of its rivals, Morales' movie packs a far more dizzying punch. If you can forgive the slightly elongated running time, over-sentimentality, and minor plot irritations, you'll find Julia's Eyes a richly rewarding view of a terrifying, perverse underworld.
This region B encoded Blu-ray release of Julia's Eyes is presented using the native 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and a resolution of 1080p. The compression codec used is MPEG-4 AVC, and whilst Optimum usually oversee good quality transfers, it's actually surprisingly tricky to perform an accurate analysis of the quality of the visual transfer, as many of the visuals are filmed from the perspective of Julia as her eyesight slowly deteriorates. Initially, I thought that the image was suffering from mild antialiasing of the colour shading, and in some instances this does seem to be the case, though overall these moments mainly transpire to be the degenerated image from Julia's vision.
During other scenes definition is sharp enough, and though the overall image often uses a muted colour palette to lend the film its requisite bleakness and despair, colour is also used in quite striking fashion, such as when Julia stands amongst the blind women and their vividly colourful eyes.
The included English subtitles are strong, clear, and well placed.
As horror films go, it's fairly long, so the movie constitutes a 31Gb file size. Since the volume of extras is so light, it's no surprise to find that the total disc size is only marginally bigger at 32.6Gb.
The aural accompaniment to the movie plays a vital role in shredding our nerves, and Optimum have ensured that the sounds on this release are up to scratch. You can select 2.0 LPCM Stereo or 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio from the menu, and both options deliver a tidy punch to ensure the shocks are realised to their full potential. The 5.1 soundtrack proves particularly absorbing, and vocal delivery is continually clear, with no evidence of any distortion or noise throughout the entire piece.
Julia's Eyes is a film rich with artistic flair and proves darkly exhilarating for its grim psychological undertones, so it's something of a disappointment to discover only the most perfunctory of extras here.
There's a clutch of interviews, including an Interview with Guillem Morales (2.11), where the director talks about, amongst other things, his general love for Belen Rueda, who he describes as 'tremendously generous' and 'always super nice'. Fortunately, we have chance to discover this for ourselves, as the Interview with Belen Rueda (3.05) proves that the talented actress is indeed super nice and refreshingly down to Earth. A 48 second Interview with Lluis Homar is virtually pointless, but the Interview with Guillermo Del Toro (2.12) is the slot that leaves us wanting more, and it's pleasing to see Del Toro reference 'Argento style giallo' and 'Hitchcockian hallucinations' when describing Morales' film.
A sometimes subtitled B-Roll runs for approximately seven and a half minutes, and provides some interesting enough behind the scenes footage, revealing some of the techniques the crew used to capture the content for the movie.
Finally, there's a relatively low key Trailer, and the understated approach generates a suitably apt feel for the class and quality of this Spanish movie.
There's a disappointing handful of extras on this Optimum Blu-ray release, but with Morales' main feature proving such a richly rewarding and absorbing journey into a waking nightmare, this still constitutes a highly recommended release.