I spy with my little eye another unnecessary remake of an Asian horror movie. At least it’s not a one more retooling of a J-horror movie: the original 2002 picture came from Hong Kong, not Japan. But the first version of “The Eye” was in many respects similar to “Ringu,” “The Grudge” and all the other pictures of their ilk, depending on the sudden appearance of ghostly figures for much of its shock value. Though it was short on logic (again a common failing), however, it had the virtue of coolly atmospheric direction from Danny and Oxide Pang and a relatively modest quotient of blood and guts. Nowadays a moviegoer must count his blessings wherever they’re found.
Despite being written by Sebastian Gutierrez, who was also responsible for—if you’ll pardon the expression—“Snakes on a Plane,” by the standards of this kind of fare this new “Eye” isn’t as bad as you might think. It’s certainly preferable, for example, to the Pangs’ own Hollywood debut, the dreary 2007 “The Messengers.” But it is based on an old premise—the one about the person who gets a transplant and finds that he or she shares the experiences (or inclinations) of the person from whom the transplanted items came. (As one who’s just watched the 1924 German version of “The Hands of Orlac,” I can testify to its familiarity.) And even the Pangs’ film couldn’t quite overcome the fact that the idea isn’t just old, it’s positively moldy.
In this case the recipient is Sydney Wells (Jessica Alba), a blind concert violinist who has a cornea transplant and immediately begins to see the spirits of the recently departed being led away by ghoulish apparitions with big teeth, as well as other ghosts (like that of a despondent young boy in the hallway of her apartment building) and images of catastrophe, fire and burning bodies. Her therapist (Alessandro Nivola) originally thinks that it’s all in her mind, but he’s eventually persuaded that the visions are meaningful, and tracks down the identity of the donor. It turns out that she was a Mexican girl—a recent suicide who’d been sort of local doom-prophesying Cassandra denounced by her neighbors as a witch—and that what Sydney’s been seeing is a warning.
This basic through-line of the plot is clear enough, though it’s gussied up with all sorts of quick, jagged inserts accompanied by the overbearing score of Marco Beltrami. But the script adds lots of digressions which make very little sense within the larger context. What’s the point of the apparent fire in Sydney’s apartment at one point, for instance? And what’s the deal with the Chinese restaurant scene? And why is the thread about that little ghost-boy who keeps inquiring about his report card not followed up, as it was in the original? The decision to use narration from Sydney at beginning and close is also a mistake, especially the final minute or so of it—a saccharine summing-up.
Despite these lapses, though, “The Eye” is better than most recent horror flicks, though it’s not really good enough to recommend. Directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud are adept at building tension (even if it doesn’t lead anywhere), and cinematographer Jeff Jur shows a good eye for atmospheric widescreen compositions. And they opt for genuine spookiness rather than “Saw”-style gore, which is a pleasant relief. Alba doesn’t exactly grab the screen, but she’s adequate (as well as beautiful to look at), and Nivola, who was one of the better elements of the recent “Grace is Gone” (in which he played John Cusack’s brother), has a likable quality. Parker Posey, unfortunately, is nondescript as Sydney’s concerned sister, being given little opportunity to show off her usually idiosyncratic approach, and Rade Serbedzija barely gets by as the heroine’s conductor friend. (Her playing of Mozart early on, incidentally, could have been better dubbed.)
So “The Eye” isn’t terrible, just mediocre—and not quite up to the standard of the original. As a Friday night time-killer it will suffice, but the wiser course would be to wait for the DVD, which I confidently foresee will not be long in coming.