At the risk of damning it with faint praise, “The Eye” is one of the less awful horror remakes in recent years. The source material, a 2002 Hong Kong thriller, is far more effective, but this American retread doesn’t embarrass itself too deeply, the casting of Jessica Alba in the lead notwithstanding.
Alba is a lot of things, but a talented actress she is not. It is in accordance with the typically twisted logic of Hollywood that she should be given a role requiring her to be onscreen almost every second and to convey complex psychological dilemmas — something she has amply proven herself incapable of. The Hollywood logic is that it doesn’t matter if the Asian-horror remake is any good; what’s important is that it star a famous name with many 15-to-24-year-old fans.
Alba plays Sydney Wells, a Los Angeles violinist blind since age 5, now the recipient of a cornea transplant that will allow her to see again. The new peepers work fine (after the expected initial blurriness), but there’s an unexpected side effect: Her vision is now supernatural. People appear to her, even speak to her, that no one else can see or hear. (Did she get ear transplants, too?) Are they ghosts? Are they hallucinations? Are they representations of what the eyes’ former owner saw?
Whatever the case, Sydney is freaking out, and she wants to know where these eyes came from. Her doctor, Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola), believes she’s just having trouble adjusting to the sensory overload. She hasn’t had sight since she was 5. That means she can’t read, doesn’t understand people’s body language and facial expressions, and isn’t used to the barrage of sights that the average person encounters every waking minute of every day.
The film, directed by the French team of David Moreau and Xavier Palud (whose “Them” was an efficient thriller), considers the ramifications of newfound sight more thoughtfully than you’d expect. This hews closely to the original, which also delved into the psychology of its main character — a rarity in a genre usually devoted to cheap scares and visceral thrills. Moreau and Palud know how to create a tense, suspenseful scene, too, and generally make “The Eye” passable, if not wet-your-pants scary.
But of course the problem is Alba. While she mimics the movements of a blind person reasonably well, her line readings are either flat or overdone, and seldom effective. Her effort is more evident than anything else — what you see is not a frightened character, but a flailing actress trying to create a frightened character. It’s hard to get caught up in a movie’s reality when the star keeps reminding you that it’s not real.
C+ (1 hr., 37 min.; )