A generally effective way to write good horror is to play off of the elements from common nightmares, because they plague us all at one point during the nocturnal portions of our lives. Nothing is more frightening than trying to urgently communicate with someone who isn't responding to you. "The Eye," an Asian horror film by the increasingly popular Pang brothers from Hong Kong, is about those nightmares brought to life with a splice of the supernatural.
As the movie opens, we meet a young woman named Mun (Lee Sin-Je) who's been blind since the age of two. After a little cornea transplant surgery, Mun begins to regain her sight and prepares to see the world again in all of its splendor. However, it is only a matter of time before she starts seeing a lot more than she could have ever imagined.
It takes a few days before everything comes into focus, and then she begins the task of learning how to 'detect by sight' as opposed to learning everything by touch. She is shown a stapler by her therapist, Dr. Wah (Lawrence Chou), but isn't able to identify it until she actually touches it, and only then is she able to remember what a stapler feels like.
While recovering, she meets the occupant of the adjacent bed; a cancer patient named Yingying (Yut Lai So) who instantly forms a bond with Mun. Yingying fears that Mun will soon leave her after her recovery and she knows that her terminal status will keep her in the hospital much longer. Yingying is an important character and the payoff from the relationship between the two of them is the most satisfying part of the movie.
It doesn't take long (seemingly overnight) for Mun to get adjusted to her new eyes, however there's something awfully strange about what comes into focus. Eerie wraiths begin appearing in the background and ghostly sounds haunt her as she recovers in her hospital bed. In what is the best visual part of the movie, Mun sees what she believes is the Grim Reaper, a dark figure who escorts an elderly woman out of the hospital. When Mun wakes up the next morning, she finds out that the elderly woman has passed away.
And so begins a series of nightmares and montages of obscure images including an undistinguishable hospital lobby, a squawking crow, and a primitive looking village she's never seen; all to be defined near the film's climax. A boy haunts the hallway and only Mun can see him. He approaches and asks, "Have you seen my report card?" He is later seen eating candle wax outside her neighbor's apartment. These are only the beginning of many creepy scenes that will stick with you long after you finish watching the movie.
The first half of "The Eye" is brilliant. There's a disturbing elevator scene that uses both crisp special effects and security camera footage meant to show us what everyone but Mun doesn't see, a man standing in the corner of the elevator watching over an unsuspecting couple.
She sees a dead schoolboy leaving the scene of his own road accident after she walks right through him, a ghostly wife with her baby lurking around her husband's noodle restaurant, and a not-so-pleasant ghost in a calligraphy studio who is angry that Mun has taken her seat while she's learning how to write.
There's also a clever shot of Mun's bedroom as it fades back and forth from its normal appearance to one she's never seen before. But it is at that point when the film begins to head south. Mun and her new love interest, Dr. Wah, head to Thailand to uncover the mystery of something I won't reveal. I wish they had left that following sequence out of the film entirely, but that is the one which delivers the big revelation about Mun's curse.
The film's biggest flaw is that it doesn't explain much of the required plot information. We are told in odd fashion by an un-introduced character informing a couple that their son has sinned by committing suicide, and that he will be damned to repeat his death until he finishes his -- that's right, you guessed it -- unfinished business. We also learn that some souls leave when they die while others purposely stick around to obviously heckle the living, in this case to scare the wits out of poor Mun.
"The Eye" starts off with so much promise that it pains me to end on this note, but here it goes: Like so many horror films, "The Eye" simply can't live up to its initial greatness. Everything in the first half was solid and shot very methodically; the camera would slowly creep around hallways making sure we couldn't see the entire picture until it was necessary, and that's also when the few genuinely good scares took place. By the end, "The Eye" looks too -- and I hate to say it -- American. There's a big action sequence that has "HOLLYWOOD" written all over it, but its execution somehow has a lot more guts then any American horror film, and you'll know what I'm talking about after you see the carnage.
In the end, I can say that I was generally pleased with "The Eye," and hope its eventually arrival to American audiences will inspire the exploration of foreign horror. "The Eye" unraveled a little too much after the first half, but some of the truly daunting images, especially the ones in the elevator and hospital room, were worth it.