If self-inflicted psychological terrorisation is your idea of a good time, then, you will be glad to know, there are several outstandingly frightening scenes in this film. ‘Spine chilling’ is usually a term I see as sitting happily in the realm of the metaphorical, but there are one or two moments in this one where it comes viscerally to life.
So, a great horror film then? Not quite. 'The Eye' has the right atmosphere, at least to begin with, and some big moments, but other essential planks - chiefly the 'deep' story and the build toward a properly terrifying ending - are not up to scratch.
We begin with Sydney (Alba), a young blind woman about to undergo surgery to restore her sight, which she lost as a child. She’s strangely reluctant, being quite happy in her life as a successful concert violinist, but under pressure from her sister (Posey), she agrees to have it done. The transplant is a success. There are some adjustment issues but everything goes well enough, until the otherworld, let in by some dodgy science, intervenes.
Basically, Jessica sees dead people (as an aside, the obvious 'Sixth Sense' resonances are dealt with quite cleverly in a single, well placed line).
Refreshingly, instead of indulging her or sympathising, Sydney's doctor, mentor/conductor and the psychologist (Nivola) given the job of helping her cope with the transition from blindness to seeing, tell her to pull herself together, while her sister clears off soon after the surgery, meaning Sydney has to deal with the malicious spirits and shapes on her own.
For a while at least, it's rather tense as she does so.
Meanwhile, in the 'story' scenes, things are nicely textured - the lack of sympathy for Sydney has a grittily truthful ring - and there is a clever storytelling sensibility that comes through here and there that makes Sydney's isolation all the more believable.
That said, there are characterisation issues - the psychologist's transition from sweaty sceptic to upstanding hero guy happens for no discernible reason, and there is a lack of narrative vision that sees the story meander rather than quicken as it moves forward.
It also bugs in the way some things are left hanging. A striking visual motif of a silhouetted man standing in the distance during some of the 'nightmare' sequences seems as though it might hold the key to the whole film but it ebbs into the background. Not to give too much away, the twist is less than breathtaking, and the sense that there is something at stake, which films like this depend on, never manifests itself.
All in all, though directors David Moreau and Xavier Palud succeed in creating a malevolent atmosphere in the first half, they allow the film to become a procedural 'let’s get it over with' job as the mystery opens out. It wastes velocity after a cracking start and never really recovers it and in the end there is never that feeling that we are at the bottom of things, or that the events really matter.
Ultimately, 'The Eye' lets the viewer, and Jessica Alba, off the hook a little too easily.