There is one truly striking shock in the new made-in-Hong-Kong-by-Thai-directors horror flick The Eye, but unfortunately, directors Danny and Oxide (yes, Oxide) Pang saved the best for first. If the film's opening moments don't grab you, nothing will; the Pang Brothers cut their teeth on commercials, and the first few minutes play like a brilliant trailer for what is to follow. If only the whole movie could be as striking.
The Eye boasts scares aplenty; that isn't the problem. It's a good night's entertainment, if all you want is to jump out of your seat a few times, and you don't mind reading subtitles in the process. If you're a longtime horror fan, however, the shocks are somewhat mitigated by the game of "spot the reference" you'll be playing as the story unfolds. It borrows from the best: Hideo Nakata's Ringu and Dark Water are cribbed from, as is The Sixth Sense and even the underrated The Mothman Prophecies (the Pang Brothers and I seem to be the only ones who enjoyed that film).
In other words, this is very much horror-suspense of the moment, following a new wave of subtle shockers that includes all of the above plus A Stir of Echoes, Session 9, The Others and The Blair Witch Project, movies in which what you hear and what you don't see are often more important than what's actually onscreen. Tom Cruise has purchased the U.S. remake rights to The Eye, and we can undoubtedly expect a future Scary Movie sequel to reference that. In the meantime, you can get the jump on the masses and be able to brag about having seen the original.
"Original" is a relative term in a movie about a woman who... wait for it... sees dead people, possibly thanks to the influence of a scary dead kid (audiences in the Far East seem to have a real phobia of little girls). Anyway, our heroine Mun (Lee Sin-Je, a popular singer in Taiwan since her teens) has been blind since early childhood but has recently gained the ability to see via a new state-of-the-art cornea transplant.
As her new eyes start to focus, she sees blurry shapes that don't seem to actually be there. It could just be a trick of the light, but then late one evening in the hospital, she awakens to a sound reminiscent of Bob Dylan with a sinus problem (eye transplants apparently affect one's hearing as well, in this case) and encounters a scary old lady who disappears. And it's no simple disappearance -- a fuzzy image vaguely resembling a translucent man in a black turtleneck shows up to lead the elderly dame through the wall. The next morning, naturally, we learn that the female patient in a neighboring bed has died during the night.
Old ladies can only be so scary, however. Unfortunately for Mun, there's more. A young boy who committed suicide keeps hanging around demanding his report card. An accident victim walks right through her. A particularly pissed-off spirit leaps through her and knocks her out. Then there's the problem of her bedroom, which keeps morphing into another room altogether, one she's never seen, complete with the shadow of a rocking chair in motion in the middle of the floor. Why... it's enough to make a woman fling herself into the arms of an extremely young and handsome therapist (Lawrence Chou)! Chou's also a Taiwanese pop sensation; here's hoping Tom Cruise doesn't go a similar route in casting his version.
Similar to Ringu/The Ring, this relatively chaste couple goes about figuring out exactly where the offending eyes came from, and why they have such a problematic supernatural defect. Along the way, more spooky visions show up, usually cued by obvious scary music that tells you exactly when. Later in the film, one or two scares happen without foreshadowing, but not many. The Pang Brothers, who've never made a horror film before, seemingly want to stick to the tried and true.
And let's be honest -- it works. It'll take a hardy soul to not quiver even once during the movie. Formula can indeed be effective, and maybe if you've never seen a Hideo Nakata film, The Eye will even come off as original. Nakata's Dark Water is also set to be remade stateside -- whichever one is done first gets bragging rights. Meanwhile, fright fans could do a lot worse than The Eye; the Pangs have talent, but when they realize that a film isn't the same thing as a feature-length commercial, perhaps they'll provide us with some more original visions.