Posted on May 9, 2017

The Eye vs. The Eye

Guest Post

If you’re a serious film fan, you probably have a kneejerk (but totally appropriate!) negative reaction any time you hear about an American remake of a beloved movie from another country. Who among us has not been burned? Who doesn’t have that one favorite film from abroad that was eventually sullied (or even ruined) by Hollywood ignorance/excess/apathy/all of the above?

For me, it was the 2004 Thai horror movie, Shutter, which was crazy scary and climaxed with a final reveal (I won’t spoil it here) that chilled me to the bone, only to be transformed four years later into a disappointing cash grab starring Dawson Creek’s Joshua Jackson.

For others, perhaps it was the British cult classic, The Wicker Man (1973), which was recycled into the unintentionally campy Nicolas Cage movie of the same name in 2006. Or maybe it was the R-rated J-horror classic, Ju-on (2002), which became the nonsensical PG-13 Sarah Michelle Gellar vehicle, The Grudge (2004).

But believe it or not, I’m not a rabid purist. I do acknowledge that there have been solid remakes in the American canon, horror and otherwise. For example, as much as I (and the rest of the world) love the chilling Let the Right One In (2008) from Sweden, I think Let Me In (2010) is remarkably well-crafted and surprisingly moving, emotionally, in ways the Swedes never intended.

So it was with an open mind that I recently approached watching, after all these years, the 2008 American remake of The Eye (2002). I saw the Hong Kong-made original when it first came out, in a small theater that no longer exists, and it instantly became one of my favorite horror films of all time.

The story of a blind violinist who regains her sight after a cornea transplant, only to start seeing dead people is elevated by the talent of its two directors—Danny and Oxide Pang, Chinese twins who are also known in the Thai film industry for such movies as the fantastic (original) Bangkok Dangerous (2000).

Soon after, I heard that Tom Cruise’s production company had snapped up the American remake rights to The Eye, and my heart sank. So sacred did I hold the original movie that I refused to see the remake…until now.

Is it as bad as everyone says it is? Yes and no. It’s not a good film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not awful. It’s just sort of…“there”…which is a shame because I’m a huge fan of the new movie’s two co-directors, who previously helmed the masterful French home-invasion thriller, Them (2006).

What happened? One can only speculate, I suppose, although co-director David Moreau has claimed that working on the new Eye was the worst experience of his career and even contemplated taking his name off the project after being shut out for part of the editing process. (But I should also add, after speaking to a friend of mine who worked on the movie, Moreau and co-director Xavier Palud were perhaps not the best choice to lead this film project.)

Angelica Lee & Jessica Alba

But backstory is backstory, and what’s on screen is on screen. No one in the cast fares well (even the ever-reliable Parker Posey and Chloë Grace Moretz seem like they’re going through the motions), with Razzie-nominated Jessica Alba (playing Sydney) as the face of the film’s bad acting. I don’t know if the script was doing her any favors though. She’s saddled with clunky opening and closing voiceovers, and must carry the weight of the script’s most cringeworthy moments.

Here’s actual dialogue from the movie:

Sydney: These eyes are not my eyes!

Paul: Yes, they are!

Sydney: No, they’re not!

Paul: Yes, they are!

Sydney: No, they’re not!

Paul: Yes, they are!

My friend also hops to Alba’s defense, claiming it was a difficult shoot that would’ve eaten anyone alive.

My favorite scene in the first Eye involves an elevator, and is a fine example of the Pang Brothers’ stylish approach to filmmaking and innate understanding of how to creep people out. They have patience. And it pays off.

The entire sequence, which involves perhaps the longest elevator ride in the history of cinema and a disfigured old man in a hospital gown floating towards our protagonist, takes about three excruciatingly long screen minutes to execute. It’s almost unbearably scary.

In the remake, the scene feels rushed at two hasty minutes.

If you watch both sequences back to back, you’ll notice how masterful the Pang Brothers are in making maximum use of just one additional minute. When you compare the two scenes directly, it’s almost comical how much the new scene falls short.

The remake also has a lame take on the dark figures that the protagonist sees. In the original, these faceless shadows matter-of-factly escort the dead to their next destination. In the newer movie, they scowl with evil intent. The first movie offers a contemplative, sad view of the afterlife. The second movie wants death to be scary as f*ck—but, the first time one of those CGI death escorts roared at the screen, I laughed.

The new ending, too, showcases a stark contrast in worldview. (Light spoiler for the rest of this paragraph.) The original film reaches a rather somber conclusion, and we also come to realize our heroine’s supernatural sight is not the curse she once thought it was—it’s a kind of gift when viewed in the right light, the same way death is looked upon not with mortal fear but with sorrowful inevitability. What subtlety or complexity that was captured by the first film is thrown out the window in the new one for an impossibly happy ending that dives headfirst into the closing credits with an upbeat rock song.

Perhaps someone else will someday tackle Eastern religion vs. Western religion and how that plays out in different national cinemas—that is, if that certain someone else is willing to brave remakes, which I’m not entirely sure I can do any more.

I know both Eyes are about the dead. But why does the remake have to be so lifeless?

 

Prince Gomolvilas is a playwright whose comedy/horror/tragedy, The Brothers Paranormal, is scheduled to open in New York City during the 2018-2019 season. He is also the creator of Thai Movie Central, the web’s #1 source of information about contemporary and classic Thai movies, and Bamboo Nation, where he’s been blogging about crazy Asian things since 2006.

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