“Losing something is always terrible. Sometimes you lose material things, people or feelings. But losing one thing always implies gaining something else. And that’s where we have to concentrate. Going blind isn’t pleasant, but it doesn’t mean that everything ends there. It means transformation.”
Such grand transformations are not just evident in the content of Guillem Morales’ new movie Julia’s Eyes, but in the man himself. Shuffling out from the dusty crevices of amateur film-making, Morales has taken centre-stage this month in the world of foreign film.
The movie, which has been produced by cult Spanish director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage), tells the story of Julia, a young woman suffering from a degenerative eye disease which threatens her with blindness. Discovering her twin sister hanged in the basement of her own home, common sense points to suicide, but Julia, unable to quell her suspicions begins to entertain the possibility of murder. Just as Julia begins to uncover the horrific truths behind her sister’s death, her vision deteriorates leading her on a journey of psychological, emotional and optical darkness.
Casting thoughts back to See No Evil, Blind Terror, and The Eye (amongst others), one can see that over recent years, sight and the loss of vision have become fairly common tropes in the horror genre. Morales admits that yes, a number of films have been made about blindness, but assures me that his is different. “Julia’s Eyes, isn’t a film about a blind woman,” he states. “It’s a film about a woman who’s going blind. But before losing her sight forever, she’ll have to see things, important things; that she’d never seen before, and these can be either beautiful or terrible…” As with the best of Shakespeare’s plays it becomes apparent that those who cannot see at all are often those who see best. As Julia loses her sight she learns to see differently. The film, he says, “is structured around seeing. Of what it means to see but also what it means to be seen.” Making a movie about seeing is distinctly meta. Morales places into question the veracity of the very sense we rely on to experience and orient ourselves in relation to film.
Yet it is precisely sight and its erasure which become a way for Morales to drive his plot forward. Julia must race against a clock whose midnight hour signals blindness for her. In this formal respect Julia’s Eyes is a movie which often bears as much resemblance to a thriller as a horror movie. Morales’ debut film The Uncertain Guest stuck closely to an established thriller framework. Julia’s Eyes, however, sees him marry horror with the thriller form with a deft touch. I wonder why he feels that this thriller-based form works, and he tells me that “although there are some people who think otherwise, it’s a genre that doesn’t impose limits. A thriller”, he adds “can be horrific, humane, exciting, emotional and can harbour all kinds of stories, but due to this form, you know that they’ll be told in such a way as to grab the audience from the start.” This creation of a plot which can grip straight away is no doubt something which is becoming more and more important in our culture of immediacy. He tells me: “A story can be good. But if it’s told with suspense and tension, then it’s twice as good.”
Tension and suspense may be key issues in Morales’ film-making, but he states that his ultimate goal is to entertain his audience. He tells me that he seeks “to leave the viewer breathless, so that they embark on a roller-coaster of emotions that doesn’t stop until the end of the film.” Julia’s Eyes carries the narrative itch of Hitchcock and the dark horror of Argento, synthesising such influences into a form of volatility. I am intrigued to know what inspired Morales to fashion an aesthetic which seems in such close conversation with its filmic ancestors, within both the horror and thriller genre. Instead of reeling off a list of movies as expected, Morales states that he drew greater influence from video games: “I wanted to impregnate the whole creative team with the influence of my favourite games,” he states, in order to give birth to something fast-paced and suitably dark. Morales, seems to struggle in defining the style of his movie, denying its often gothic aesthetic, he instead claims “diluted European influences” which “perfectly describe a world in which there’s nothing beautiful left to see.”
At the heart of his movie, however, is not tension, suspense, horror, or gore, but the importance of transformation and adaptivity. Whilst Julia’s Eyes is a horror-thriller, it carries a deep message regarding the nature of human perception. Morales explains: “Transformation is a painful but incredibly positive process if we take it for what it is: an evolution. Going blind,” he states, “isn’t as important as the attitude we have towards this change.” Embracing change and transforming our perceptions is as much Julia’s goal as our own. Morales encourages us to change and adapt to new filmic surroundings and situations. To transform the way in which we perceive and interact with film.