about new laws for Hollywood movies, some way of reforming the American
rating system, for example--that rarely coherent, fairly irrational
and at times politically motivated method they have of slapping
"PG 13" on some titles, "R" or even "NC 17" on others (they should
complain; we've been saddled with the MTRCB (Movie and Television
Ratings and Classification Board) for decades).
No one talks about actually banning projects outright, though--stupid
high-concept comedies; even stupider high-concept romantic comedies;
torture porn; sequels and prequels of tiresome franchises; remakes
of TV shows, Hollywood classics, international successes--Asian
horror in particular. I can think of dozens of other laws that should
be passed, even ratified by the United Nations and enforced on a
worldwide scale, but these would make a good start.
and Xavier Palud's The Eye (2008) is the latest and easily most
eloquent argument for said law. A remake of the Pang Brothers' 2002
hit Gin Gwai (The Eye), the picture tells the story of a beautiful
blind violinist (Jessica Alba) who receives corneal transplants
then starts seeing "dead people," as her skeptical psychologist
(Alessandro Nivola) puts it (at least scriptwriter Sebastian Gutierrez
had the smarts to turn the picture's obvious debt to M. Night Shaymalan's
The Sixth Sense (1999--which in turn stole its gimmick from Herk
Harvey's great cult film Carnival of Souls (1962))--into a throwaway
We are treated to Alba recoiling from a traffic jam of the spiritually
restless, speeding this way or that down half-lit corridors (Why
do hospital corridors in horror pictures always have to be half-lit?
Why don't directors realize that the surest sign of an unconfident
filmmaker is the use of hoary, blatantly unrealistic scare tactics?).
Sometimes the dead stand and stare at her, which may be even worse--you're
not sure if they want to frighten or sexually harass her, maybe
not as if the original material was worth reprising anyway. Was
not a big fan of the Pang Brothers' movie; thought it tried too
hard, that it had the Hong Kong drive to keep its audience riveted
without enough Hong Kong style to make it memorable, that it used
too much of the music-video filmmaking so beloved by American horror
And it isn't as if the Pangs are geniuses at terror--that famous
elevator sequence (faithfully reproduced in this remake) seemed
more hilarious than horrifying, the floating corpse like a moth-eaten
suit on string, wobbling out of the elevator to scare the kiddies
(much better is the elevator sequence that climaxes Hideo Nakata's
Honogurai mizu no soko kara (Dark Water, also '02)--at least that
was more persuasively staged (no skeletons on string, thank you),
made more narrative sense, and packed a dramatic power that went
far beyond its ostensibly simple plot twist).
to this sorry lot the difference is so dramatic it's not even funny.
Nakata knows how to use silence, stillness, long pauses, and subtly
but brilliantly angled shots to unsettle and at times terrify his
audience. The Pangs--and for that matter Moreau and Palud--need
to sit down and study Nakata's work frame-by-frame, maybe stay away
from filmmaking till they learn to at least approximate it (perhaps
even give up directing altogether, which would be unlikely but nice).
They opt for a hysterical filmmaking style and soundtrack to match,
not realizing what Nakata must have realized long ago, that ghosts
are far more effective set against a recognizably realistic background
(with all the shrieks and hoots and chop-suey editing in this picture,
everyone looks half-dead; the more supernatural characters need
to overact to get noticed at all). The Pangs, Moreau, and Palud
(they sound like a U.S. immigration law firm) seem to subscribe
to the philosophy that if they make a loud noise you'll feel fear;
if they make a louder noise you'll feel more fear (What I'm really
afraid of is going deaf from the busy soundtrack, perhaps feel nauseous
from the even busier camerawork).
As for Jessica
Alba--well, she's no Angelica Lee (who made much of the silliness
in the original halfway persuasive); she's definitely no Madeline
Stowe, who in Michael Apted's 1994 thriller Blink also played a
blind woman regaining her sight (as you see, there are few if any
truly new ideas in cinema). Lee was an angel of a sufferer, and
you felt for her and felt she didn't deserve any part of the ordeal
she went through; Stowe played an earthier, sexier woman, and her
combination of sensual confidence and vulnerability is refreshing.
Alba looks as if she'd just been invited to the junior prom, and
never recovered from the initial joy; she's got a cheerfully inane
smile stapled across her mug that's impossible to wipe off--her
face suggests that smile whether she's paralyzed with fear or crushed
by despair (I'm guessing those are the emotions her character is
supposed to feel--can't go by her acting alone). She's easily the
most inept beautiful actress working in Hollywood at the moment,
with one bad performance after another adorning a string of even
worse movies; this one is probably the crown jewel of her career--the
one that ends it, I mean. Well, one can always hope.
Email me at email@example.com
First published in Businessworld, 02.08.08.