Flimsy “Scream”-mask-meets-Martian-figures representing death appear from the supernatural world. Ghosts with disfigured faces visit the heroine. There are noises behind locked doors; there are screams. The horror movie ingredients are there, but it doesn’t work: “The Eye” is an eyesore.
Directed by David Moreau and Xavier Palud, “The Eye” is about a blind girl, Sydney (Jessica Alba), who begins to see supernatural visions after receiving a cornea transplant. The power of the donor to access the spiritual realm has transferred to Sydney after her surgery. In order to stop the disturbing visions that haunt her, Sydney must find out who the donor is and discover her secret. The fact that the donor is dead, of course, is no obstacle.
The movie is a remake of a 2002 Hong Kong production called “Jian Gui”; there is a Chinese restaurant scene that is an allusion to the original. The plot is not bad — blindness, visions and connections to the world of dead people are elements that could make a successful horror movie. The problem is that these elements have already made many successful horror movies, and “The Eye” has very little originality to offer. Shattering mirrors, dead women with pale faces and running mascara, shots of a noose inserted when the audience is least expecting it, occasional blazes of fire and even blood trickling down the eyes do not scare, or even shock or disturb the viewer.
When the movie is consciously referencing other films, it gets closer to achieving something interesting. In one scene, Sydney talks about her visions to Dr. Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola), a specialist who tries to help her adjust to the novelty of sight after a life spent in darkness. Unsurprisingly, the doctor does not believe that she is having supernatural visions. When she says “I see…” he sarcastically completes the sentence “What — dead people?” The movie owes a lot to “The Sixth Sense,” and the fact that it shows enough self-awareness to recognize this is commendable. Yet what “The Sixth Sense” does with subtlety and suspense, “The Eye” overdoes with clumsiness. Sydney sees so many dead people before realizing they’re dead that it becomes wearyingly obvious. Sydney may be blind to what is happening to her, but the viewer is not. He just starts wishing he were, after a point.
The characters are underdeveloped; they do not seem to have any defining features. Alba is generally in a state of unconvincing distress, which occasionally borders on unconvincing hysteria. Nivola does a better job, although his character’s lack of depth is difficult to conceal with good acting.
The movie has an interesting ending, and it is gratifying to find out why Sydney has been having nightmarish visions at exactly the same hour every night. One can’t help being reminded of “Final Destination,” but that in itself is not a bad thing. The almost deterministic conclusion reached at the final scene is effective in tying up the cycle of events.
“The Eye” is a dull reminder of how much the eye — the inner eye, the third eye — has been used in the horror genre. It is also a vivid demonstration of the fact that putting together tested and approved horror movie techniques is not enough to make a horror movie work.