(Lionsgate) Jessica Alba, Parker Posey, Alessandro Nivola, Rade Serbezija, Fernanda Romero, Rachel Ticotin, Obba Babatunde, Danny Mora, Chloe Moretz, Tamlyn Tomita. Directed by David Moreau and Xavier Pulud
If seeing is believing, are the blind bereft of belief? If all we have to count on is the evidence of our senses, what happens when we can no longer trust them? What happens if we see that which we can’t believe?
Sydney Wells (Alba) is a concert violinist who has been blind since a firecracker accident at age five took her sight away. She is pretty much content with her lot in life; her memory of sight is not terribly vivid and she doesn’t really miss it. She lives in a nice apartment in Los Angeles and has plenty of people who care for her, including the gifted conductor (Serbezija) of the orchestra she performs in.
Her sister Helen (Posey) feels differently. She carries a load of guilt for her sister’s disability and has continued searching for a way to restore her sight – a corneal transplant at age 12 didn’t take. Finally, after stem cell research found some answers, Helen convinced Sydney to give it another go. Sydney is understandably nervous but after some sage advice from her doorman (Mora), she is ready to undergo the procedure.
After Dr. Haskins (Babatunde) unwraps the bandages, Sydney is surprised that her vision is extremely blurred. That’s normal, explains Dr. Haskins, as is the burning sensation she feels. He recommends Dr. Paul Faulkner (Nivola) to help her adjust to getting her sight back.
All Sydney wants is a normal life, but she doesn’t get that. She begins to see shadows that aren’t really there, people who appear and disappear and horrifying dreams of fire, death and pain. At first she thinks this is a side effect of the transplant surgery but begins to suspect that something is terribly wrong when the visions become more and more solid, more real. She begins to realize that she can see into the thin veil between life and death.
The visions are growing worse and Sydney knows she must do something to stop them or else risk losing her sanity. She determines to find out who the donor for her eyes was, but the quest will lead her and Dr. Faulkner to find answers that they may not necessarily like – and will put them both into horrible jeopardy.
Following a recent Hollywood trend, this is based on an Asian horror film (in this case a Pang Brothers movie from Hong Kong) that is far superior to the remake. While French directors Moreau and Pulud are talented in their own right (they directed Them, criminally unreleased here in the States), their work here is curiously flat and if you’ll excuse the pun, lifeless.
Part of the problem is Alba. In the television series “Dark Angel” I thought she was scintillating, and looked forward to future performances but sadly, she hasn’t often matched her work in the show. She has almost no spark; her character is sweet, sure but I find myself not connecting to her and my rooting interest in the character is therefore diminished. There isn’t much chemistry with any other character in the movie, which is deadlier still.
Also, for a horror film, it’s pretty lean on scares. While there are some genuinely frightening imagery (and the shadowmen figures created for the movie are pretty decent), there’s nothing over the top here, and nothing that really leaps out at you – literally. The filmmakers were going, I suspect, for mood over viscera and it doesn’t really work.
That’s too bad, because it’s a decently written horror movie. It might have done well with a little less restraint and a lot less cliché – many of the scares were accomplished via the shrieking strings that are endemic to most horror movies that are our aural cues to jump and, like Pavlov’s dogs, we do. It’s a cheap enough scare and the movie – and its audience – deserves better.
Still, when the movie is working it works well. There are moments that will satisfy even jaded horror fanboys, and enough of them that I can give the movie a mild recommendation. Not sure? Give it a rent. After all, seeing is believing…or is it? Oooooooooo…..
WHY RENT THIS: There are some genuinely scary visuals – the directors have a nice eye for it. The source material from the Pang Brothers movie, while not terribly original, is at least interesting.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Alba is a bit flat in her role. As horror movies go, this is a bit less scary than I’d like although the scares that are in this are pretty good. I would have just like to have seen more of them.
FAMILY VALUES: Heightened tension and some scary visuals, although not a lot of visceral gore. No sex or nudity, but creepy enough to watch after the kids go to bed.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Alba learned Braille and took six months of violin lessons to prepare for the film.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A feature on the theme of cornea transplant patients seeing memories of the donors – apparently it actually does happen from time to time in real life.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: Day Five of the Six Days of Darkness.