Guillermo del Toro is one of the most distinctive artists working in cinema, so any appearance of his name on a movie's credits should be a thrill, but that's unfortunately not the case. Be warned, there is a clear difference between a Guillermo del Toro production and a Guillermo del Toro film – for starters, the former is much more prevalent than the latter, and it rarely displays the same level of craft and imagination. The latest film to bear del Toro's name as a producer is Julia's Eyes, a Spanish horror based around a common and age-old fear: the loss of sight. The film opens in a promising fashion, with a scene set in the dark basement of a house, as a woman is menaced by a silent and invisible presence in the room. As the song The Look of Love plays, this lonely, terrified woman is prompted to take her own life, without her assailant needing to say a word.
This unfortunate soul is Sara and she is played by Belén Rueda, who also takes the role of Sara's twin sister, the titular Julia. Both women share the same degenerative eye defect, but Julia refuses to let that handicap deter her from investigating her sister's death, which she views as suspicious even as everyone else is prepared to write it off as a suicide. Accompanied by her sceptical husband (Lluís Homar, who played a blind man in Almodóvar's Broken Embraces), Julia drives out to Sara's house and begins digging for clues. What's the real story behind this mysterious boyfriend people remember her being with? How much does the blind old lady next door know? What of the other creepy-looking supporting characters; are they as malevolent as they appear, or simply red herrings?
The answers to those questions don't make a great deal of sense, and as Julia's Eyes progresses I got the feeling that all of its tricks, twists, shocks and double-bluffs were covering up for a story that isn't really there. In many ways, Julia's Eyes is very reminiscent of The Orphanage, Juan Antonio Bayona's successful 2007 film, which similarly cast Rueda as a woman coping with loss who finds herself trapped in a nightmare, and is forced to solve a puzzle in order to find a sense of peace. But that film had a consistent emotional through line and a more solidly assembled screenplay, elements that Julia's Eyes lacks. Director Guillem Morales tries to detract from his film's deficiencies by placing the emphasis on directorial technique, and he throws in a couple of effectively stylised sequences, such as the shadowy shots of Julia's murky point-of-view, when a stressful situation has caused her eyesight to fade. Such trickery only makes the film feel like an empty exercise in style, however, and when Morales apes The Silence of the Lambs in his climactic sequence, it suggests he has run out of ideas.
By that point in the film, I'd had more than had enough of Julia's Eyes, with the final avalanche of ludicrous twists stretching my patience beyond breaking point. Rarely has the unmasking of a killer or the revelation of his motives seemed more irrelevant and nonsensical. Julia's Eyes is a two-hour film that is totally bereft of imagination, emotion or genuine scares. You'll have to keep your eyes peeled to spot any of del Toro's influence on this project. I could see nothing to indicate his presence beyond his name on the closing credits, and if you're expecting anything close to the vision, imagination or style of his work, you're bound to be sorely disappointed. I know I have never walked out of a Guillermo del Toro filming feeling so angry at having my time wasted in such a manner.