Increasing demand for original and exciting horror has breached new shores in the past five years, with mixed results. The success of American versions of Japanese thrillers such as The Ring and The Grudge cannot be denied, but already, the formula is growing stale, as evidenced in Dark Water and The Ring Two.
Just as we can almost always predict the plot of any modern slasher flick, we can now almost guarantee what frights await us on the big screen in any Japanese-turned-American fare. The overdone turn-and-see-something-scary jumping out of your seat scares, the freaky imagery and special effects, and the tries-too-hard-to-be-creepy atmosphere.
That is why I found it very refreshing to sit down and watch a superb horror film such as The Eye. Hailing instead from China, rather than Japan, the movie stars Angelica Lee who plays the part of Mun, a young woman who is about to undergo a cornea transplant in an effort to restore her sight, lost at an early age.
Lee is cast perfectly, deftly convincing us of the range of emotion and expression her character faces, from the first onset of confusion to the point of hysterics, to her strong determination to solve the mystery of why her new eyes enable her to see spirits.
While the story itself is neither wholly original nor complex, it works nonetheless, and we are quickly ensnared when the initial imagery of viewing the perceived ghosts through Mun’s adjusting vision brings you right beside her into the movie. The subtle form of something steadily approaching that you cannot quite make out fills you with such a sense of dread that you literally want to run from your seat. Along with the appearance of the first ghost comes a pulsating creepiness that envelopes you like a heavy blanket and doesn’t dissipate until long after the final scene.
The Pang Brothers smartly opted to do away with jump-out-of-your-seat scares, and instead filled an otherwise simple story with an overdose of creepiness and skin crawling. They succeed in turning seemingly innocent and tranquil areas (a restaurant, a crowded street, an elevator) into the realm of the dark and surreal, and you quickly realize that terror can be anywhere, at any time.
Imagine yourself as a small, frightened child, trembling under the covers as you stare fearfully at your closet door. You are alone and vulnerable, and the closet door slowly creaks open, inch-by-inch, agonizingly slow. It reveals nothing but blackness for minutes, and your small frame is frozen stiff, your tiny muscles clenched in fear. You know something lurks just beyond the shadows, staring back at you, and you are unsure of its intentions.
You will feel this again when you watch The Eye. This is the essence of the horror contained within.
While the movie obviously bears comparison to The Sixth Sense, it quickly veers away from such territory, and you find yourself enjoying what is a thoroughly creepy and suspenseful film.
Thankfully, The Eye also stays away from the twist ending, which it seems all thrillers and horror films are now required to have since The Sixth Sense phenomena gripped Hollywood. Instead, the main story reaches a somewhat anticlimactic but satisfactory conclusion, but the actual ending of the movie contains scenes of such powerful intensity, its nearly overwhelming, and you may have to remind yourself to breathe again once the credits start rolling.
It is unfortunate that Hollywood is yet again seeking to remake an international film for American audiences, rather than allowing audiences to see the original, especially when you have something already perfectly capable of frightening audiences with such perfection. One can only hope that success of the remake will inspire audiences to seek out this exciting original, and perhaps demand for American releases of international films will increase.