‘The Eye’ delivers a few successful jolts

In this cheap remake starring Jessica Alba, see past the superficial.

John Sand

American producers love remaking Asian thriller flicks by amping up the special effects and tossing in an attractive damsel in distress (Sarah Michelle Gellar, Naomi Watts, etc). More often than not, these cheap tricks fall short of the talent and tension present in the original film and overload the audience with cheap thrills and jolts.

“The Eye”

Directed by: David Moreau, Xavier Palud
Starring: Jessica Alba, Parker Posey, Alessandro Nivola
Rated: PG-13
Now showing

Jessica Alba stars in “The Eye,” a remake of the Chinese film “Jian Gui.” Considering Alba’s less-than -stellar acting repertoire, the film seems at once destined to repeat the mistakes of its predecessors. Surprisingly, Alba’s acting, though unsteady at times, is an improvement upon her past roles.

Sydney Wells (Alba) is an attractive, accomplished violinist who lost her vision at age five in a firecracker incident. We first join Wells on the day before a double cornea transplant, a surgery she had previously attempted fruitlessly. With the constant (at times, incessant) moral support of her sister, Helen (Parker Posey), Sydney’s surgery is a success.

Along with the acquisition of her sight, Wells is awarded a conveniently attractive neural ophthalmologist, Dr. Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola) to aid her in adaptation to her new-found vision.

Sydney soon finds out that sight isn’t all she had imagined. Through what is described as “cellular memory,” she believes that her new eyes are allowing her visual access to the spiritual world. She consistently witnesses “shadowy figures” escorting the recently deceased into the afterlife.

As expected, Sydney’s family and friends are skeptical of her claims. The good doctor even comically references “The Sixth Sense’s” infamous quote “I see dead people.”

Surprisingly, Alba’s acting is not a predominant weakness of the film. She carries the emotion of the role well with only minor theatrical missteps, such as her often humorous interaction with invisible ghosts.

Alba, who often appears in Maxim’s “Hot 100,” and scored FHM’s “Sexiest Woman in the World” in 2007, works hard to pull herself from the list of gorgeous, talentless performers. Aside from a single slip-up involving an overtly sexy shower scene, the directors unexpectedly shy away from using Alba’s overplayed sexuality.

“The Eye” is nearly identical to the original Chinese film, often explicitly copying the Pang brothers’ directing techniques.

The Americanization of the cinematography, i.e. the insertion of countless special effects, helped the remake overcome the original’s main fault: the blandness and surrealism of the spiritual encounters. “Jian Gui” relies heavily on startling noises and thick makeup to separate the living from the dead, while “The Eye” effectively employs digital alterations to enhance the “realism” of the ghosts.

While the addition of special effects is an improvement, the audience is often startled for no reason other than the film’s attempt at a constant feeling of tension.

Aside from a few cheap jolts and Nivola’s poorly written character, the principal flaw of the film actually lies in its similarity to the original. A few scenarios, such as the ghost of a young boy demanding his missing report card, border on comical.

For what the film admits to be, a cheap remake that leans heavily on dramatic camera angles and Alba’s acting, the results are exceptional. Alba’s previous roles (“Into the Blue,” anyone?) continue to undermine her serious attempts at acting. Even though Alba’s performance is flawed, she is finally beginning to inch toward a career as a respected actress.