Retro Review: THE EYE (2008){0}

In the beginning, there was Ringu, Ju-On, and Gin Gwai. And Kairo, Chakushin Ari, and Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara. And they were good. Well, good enough, anyway, although I’m probably committing horror-geek heresy by admitting that I wasn’t all that dazzled by the non-stop Asian genre flicks that I kept seeing at every freakin’ film festival. Professionally-crafted, intermittently creepy, and just novel enough to translate well overseas, these movies made a good deal of cash, even if they were more than a little overrated. (And not one of ‘em is freakier than Oodishon (Audition) or Batoru Rowiaaru (Battle Royale) — so why haven’t those two been remade yet?)

And for those who haven’t been keeping up:

Ringu became The Ring (plus sequel); Ju-On was redone as The Grudge (plus sequel); Kairo turned into Pulse; Chakushin begot One Missed Call, and Honogurai arrived here as Dark Water. Pretty soon we’ll get to see the Thai thriller Shutter remade (as Shutter), but this weekend we get the Americanized version of Gwin Gai: The Eye.

The ironic part about all these Asia-to-America remakes is this: With very few deviations, each remake is exactly the same as its predecessor, only minus a few pesky components like good acting, strong characterizations, and creepy atmosphere. But (as is often the case regarding churn-‘em-out horror remakes) the producers of the lazy Eye remake turned to a fresh face on the international horror scene, in this case hoping that the small buzz regarding a flick called Them (aka Ils) would translate into box office success. (Let’s just say assume that French co-directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud now know the meaning of the phrase “quick paycheck.”)

So despite approaching The Eye with a small sense of optimism that this one MIGHT be the remake to break a very irritating trend, it took only about 15 minutes with leading lady Jessica Alba (and the co-directors’ leaden approach to psychological horror) before I couldn’t wait for the thing to end. If you’ve already seen the original version of The Eye, then you know exactly what you’re getting here: A slightly compelling but ultimately very obvious tale about one dour woman and her horrific experiences with a pair of haunted corneas. Turns out that poor Sydney Wells has been blind since the age of five, but things are about to get worse because she’s been given some eyeballs that come from a haunted woman with an evil past! Or something like that. The plot is little more than a clothesline on which to hang a half-dozen stunningly ineffective scare scenes — and, as always, when the filmmakers are unable to scare you through mood, tone, or a well-crafted set-piece, they’re happy to just throw a LOUD NOISE or a DREAM SEQUENCE or ANOTHER LOUD NOISE, just to keep the easily-entertained from yawning audibly at the screen.

Asked to anchor an entire movie (for the first time ever and I wonder why), Ms. Jessica Alba employs all three of her facial expressions a whole lot. Quite simply, while the effort is there, the talent is not. (Why not let a pin-up girl just remain a pin-up girl? Between this flick and Awake, the message should be pretty clear by now. Alba in a bikini = profitable. Alba speaking dialog = laughable.) Folks like Alessandro Nivola (as a cliche-spouting psychologist) and Parker Posey (giving a better performance than the flick seems to need) do what they can to add a little color, but the simple truth is that The Eye is Alba’s show all the way. And I don’t mean that in a good way.

The first hour of the film feels exactly like a Lifetime Original Feature that someone decided to toss a few frames of horror into. Every time the flick slows to a crawl (which is often), we’re jolted back to life by some arbitrary shock of color and light — or we’re greeted to yet another sequence in which a formerly-blind concert violinist wanders through her impossibly gorgeous apartment. By the time Sydney makes the connection between her creepy visions and her new eyeballs, the audience is already ten paces ahead of the movie. And ready for a nice nap.

Dry, bland, predictable, and packed solid with only the oldest and hoariest thriller conventions imaginable, The Eye takes a B-minus import and turns it into a D-minus retread. And all this because The Ring made a lot more money than anyone expected it to.