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Movies: Julia's Eyes ***

A stylish and stylised Spanish horror film, Julia's Eyes has a lot in common with the acclaimed 2007 shocker The Orphanage. Although the movies have different directors, they both star Belén Rueda and bear the distinctive imprint of producer Guillermo del Toro.

Both films also bring a refreshingly Hispanic flavour to a tired and cliché-mired genre, and for at least its first hour Julia's Eyes beats the hell out of any American horror film I've seen in the past few years.

Rueda is Julia, a glamorous middle-aged woman who sets out to find out what happened when she has a premonition about her twin sister, Sara.

Her fears turns out to be all too grounded when Sara is discovered hanging in her basement, having apparently committed suicide. Both women suffered from a congenital degenerative eye disease: Sara had recently gone blind, and the police quickly decide this was the reason for her despair and death.

But Julia is not convinced. She believes her sister was made of sterner stuff, and as she digs deeper she discovers that Sara had a boyfriend and had planned an eye surgery -- not the attitude of a woman in despair. But as Julia gets closer to uncovering the truth her own eyesight begins to fail and she begins to suspect she's being stalked.

In the film's establishing scenes, director Guillem Morales lays on the portentous atmosphere with a trowel, lashing Sara's house with rain and getting great mileage from the fact that his leading lady can rarely trust her eyesight.

Rueda is a very charismatic actress, and it's refreshing to see a horror film with a woman for a heroine rather than a 20-year-old girl.

Morales brilliantly sets up a host of possible explanations for what's going on, but things get rocky when he has to answer all the questions he has posed, and the film loses its way towards its climax.

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