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The Eye

Focus Pocus

How can a supernatural thriller with no surprises still manage to give you the occasional thrill? Is it our innate and immutable fear of the unknown, a fear so primal that it overtakes all reason? Or do we so enjoy a scare that we will ourselves to have it, like the rush of an extreme sport, or faking an orgasm?

The Eye comes to us from Hong Kong -- native title, Jian gui ("seeing ghosts") -- and before that, from M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, from which The Eye borrows, shall we say, liberally. Of course, Shyamalan wasn't the first to tell a story of someone who sees dead people. But to steal from a hit movie so soon after its time does seem a bit rude. (The movie also steals from Bergman's Persona: The opening shot "burns" on screen, followed by a close-up of a face, and then some ersatz titillation: "Sit Tight ...")

The haunted one in The Eye is Mun (Lee Sin-je), a young woman, blind from early childhood, who gets a cornea transplant and then begins to see people who aren't there, as well as the Angel of Death -- he looks rather like a Man in Black -- who comes to take these reluctant dead people away. Mun's eager young post-operation therapist has eyes for her, so when she finally tells him about her visions, he chooses to believe her. Together they set out for Bangkok to find the family of the woman whose corneas Mun got, and to see if that woman's life experience has anything to do with Mun's spooky spirits. (Plot spoiler: It does.)

Directed by Oxide and Danny Pang, twin siblings who sign their film "Pang Brothers" (no "the"), The Eye has nothing wrong with it that isn't also wrong with every other eagerly made but unimaginative rip-off thriller with nothing to say. (You'd think these guys were younger, but they're pushing 40.) It's a long episode of The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, with some clumsy plot exposition, some bad science, and with a musical score so aggressive that someone should charge it with assault (drumbeats and electronica when a spirit approaches, piano for melancholy and elegiac death).

The Pangs tell their story in convoluted thriller space with flashy thriller images, rather than telling it more simply as a "realistic" tale in which, for at least one character, unexplainable things begin to happen. If The Eye has a theme, it goes something like this: Let's all be kinder to prescient little girls who can foretell mass death. Its fiery climax, in the lingo of the audience that will enjoy it, is really cool, and I can't deny that the Pangs deliver a few good jolts. But how hard is it, really, to sneak up behind someone and go "BOO!" -- especially when, heaven knows why, we seem to enjoy it so much? In Cantonese, Mandarin and Thai, with subtitles.

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