Open Your Eyes March 15, 2019
1 Hr., 57 Mins.
pen Your Eyes (1997) stars Eduardo Noriega as César, a rich and conventionally handsome 25-year-old. He’s a playboy who could have been made in a bottle. “I like eating, sleeping, making love, like everyone,” he at one point tells us, as if it were a confession, via voiceover. The easiness of his life, though, will be disrupted not long after we're introduced to him. Shortly into the film, things turn tragic.
An old lover, the splenetic Nuria (Najwa Nimri), picks him up from a new lover's apartment, seemingly OK with shifting into “just friends” territories. But then, in a fit of passion, she drives her sportscar off the road and into a wall of cement at NASCAR speed. She dies; César is critically injured, his face severely disfigured.
We meet the maimed César barely after getting to know the idealized version in Open Your Eyes. In that moment, he's sitting in what appears to be a cell in a mental hospital, wearing a creepy prosthetic mask, sharing what has happened to him to a hairy, bespectacled psychologist (Chete Lera). A disconnect forms. We wonder: How did he get from here to there?
What has happened to César, from the time he is disfigured to the moment when he is speaking with the doctor — the latter segment working as the present, his recollections the past — is not quite as tortuous as what happens after the cell-based exchange of dialogue. Following the crash, the lines between César’s reality and his dreams become increasingly blurry, and not because he hit his head. The explanation for some of these lapses turns out to be far fussier and more unbelievable than that.
Open Your Eyes, which was co-written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar, the Spanish and Chilean filmmaker whose next movie, the haunted-house chiller The Others (2001), would much more effectively make use of the plot twist, seems to aim to be a scion of movies like Eyes Without a Face (1959) or Carnival of Souls (1962). Only it’s longer, and more in line with the traditional blockbuster form.
In Eyes Without a Face, a splendid black-and-white horror movie, a doctor and his devoted assistant lure young women into what might be described as a lair. There, they surgically remove the faces of their victims to graft on to the deformed one belonging the doctor’s daughter, who was injured in a freak accident. In Carnival of Souls, a low-budget story of the macabre, a naïve organist begins having antic visions after narrowly escaping death by watery car crash.
Plenty characteristics in both make these films masterful in their own right. But what they do well that I wish Open Your Eyes emulated is be horrific without also being hyper-fixated on explication, and contain what might have cycloned into an unruly narrative. The twist permeating so much of what goes on in the movie is that (spoiler alert), not long after the accident, César signed a contract with Life Extension, a kooky company. For a steep price, L.E. will cryogenically preserve your body and fill your head with dreams so articulate that you could pinch yourself, or literally get shot, and still not realize that your surroundings are an illusion. César, with his damaged memory, is unaware of what he’s done until the film is nearing the end of the final act.
Open Your Eyes is too preoccupied with explaining itself to be the nihilistic night terror it’s wrapped up in becoming. It's fine to reveal why César’s world has become overridden with a psychological London fog, and so is an inclination to emphasize trippy tableaux in some moments. But the film leans on overstatement, and preferences storyline over rounded, sympathetic characters. (The great Penélope Cruz is given little to do with the requisite love interest role.)
Like the horror definitive Psycho (1960), which ended with prosaic, dilated exposition pertaining to why its antagonist acted the way he did, Open Your Eyes doesn’t trust its audience to think for itself or come to its own conclusions. Amenábar does leave some room for ambiguity at the end. But by then, the movie has grown too mind-numbing for it to be a persuasive living-up to the “one last twist” thriller truism. C