Horror movies are never as scary the second time around, which makes it difficult to judge a relatively faithful horror-film remake: If a given set of jolts and twists fails to spook the same viewer twice, is that necessarily the remake's fault? Fortunately for film critics the world over, The Eye makes it easy to answer that question. Any film that blands up its material this severely, botches its central premise this thoroughly, and so completely fails to build tension can clearly own most of the blame.
Joining Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Connelly, and other generically decorative American actors taking up eye-candy duties in Asian-horror remakes, Eye star Jessica Alba plays a virtuoso violinist blind since age 5, thanks to her sister's carelessness with fireworks. (Completely wasted in the sister role, Parker Posey hovers in the background, looking pained and waiting in vain for something meaningful to do.) A corneal transplant lets Alba see again, albeit blurrily, but before long, she's seeing dead people, a room that isn't hers, shrieking fire victims, and the blurred, snarling ghost-aliens from Pulse. A bit of bio-babble about "cellular memory" glosses over the magic: She's seeing these things courtesy of the haunted former owner of her corneas, though that doesn't explain what she should do about it.
The Eye (which remakes the Pang brothers' uneven but stylish 2002 Hong Kong version) relies heavily on cheesy horror tricks: creepy soundtrack noises that build to jump-cues, surprises lunging into frame, scary scenes which turn out to be nightmares, etc. But Snakes On A Plane/Gothika screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez and directorial partners David Moreau and Xavier Palud seem to forget the scary part of their story: Alba can't see half the time, and doesn't know what's real the other half. (Even Blink got that one right.) So why are so many of her creepy hallucinations auditory? Why does the film draw out the spooky scenes until they become sleepy? (In particular, an early hospital scene involving a dying woman is so protracted that it feels like Gutierrez couldn't figure out which of three ways to handle it, so he clumsily strung all three versions together.) And why cast Alba, who looks nice in a clingy sweater, but brings little else to her role but a breathy little-girl voice and some really wounded looks? There are all sorts of minor, irritating things wrong with The Eye, including the klutzy, schmaltzy voiceovers and Alessandro Nivola's baffling role as an eye specialist who, from the start, acts like the kind of abusive husband women have to escape in Lifetime movies. But the major problem is the death of a horror film: It's startling, but not particularly scary.