If you’re looking for genuine scares, look no further. Evil Eye (Mal de Ojo in Spanish) is the real deal. Get ready for great special effects, maximum impact jump scares, and chills.
Mexican writer and director Isaac Ezban’s foray into rural witchcraft horror is a smart and spooky merger of intense supernatural horror and storybook fantasy. Think Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth meets Ari Asters’ Hereditary, and you’re headed in the right direction.
The story follows Nala (Paola Miguel), a thirteen-year-old girl who is forced to move in with her grandmother in the countryside while her parents search for a cure for her sick sister, Luna (Ivanna Sofia Ferro). Everything about the spooky old house annoys Nala’s teenage sensibilities, particularly the spotty Wi-Fi, but she soon discovers there might be more to the sinister old woman than meets the eye.
The title is a reference to the popular belief in Latin American culture, as in many other cultures around the world, that misfortune, illness, or bad luck can be brought upon someone by an evil look. Envy or admiration can attract unwanted attention and leave the recipient vulnerable — so children and babies are particularly in need of protection. Ezban, who co-wrote the script with Junior Rosario and Edgar San Juan, has taken this tradition and given it a terrifying twist.
Nala resents her sister, envying the attention Luna receives from their parents because of her illness. With her parents gone, Nala is left alone with her strict, traditional granny (Ofelia Medina) and her own, complex feelings. Meanwhile, her sisters’ health takes a turn for the worse.
Evil Eye is a gothic coming-of-age story about growing up and taking responsibility (or not) for ourselves and the people we care about. It’s also about inherited trauma, grief, and the horrifying powerlessness of childhood.
Ofelia Medina (Frida Still Life; Colombiana; Sturla Gunnarsson’s Diplomatic Immunity) gives a delicious performance as Nala’s ambiguously threatening grandmother, Josefa. With a career that began in the late 1960s, Medina is a well-known actress both in and outside Mexico. She sinks her teeth into this role, and Miguel holds her own beside her.
Evil Eye isn’t an empty adrenaline rush either. The more I ponder Evil Eye, the richer it gets. Pulling back one layer of meaning reveals another one beneath. The thoughtful cinematography explores the act of watching and looking through long, lingering shots. There is also an emphasis on the physical body that underlines Nala’s journey through puberty and growing awareness of her sexuality.
Ezban has crafted a nuanced and complex film that will appeal to lovers of gothic and supernatural horror. Though the fairy tale elements might be a turn off to some viewers, Evil Eye has enough substance to warrant a second look.
For more information on the festival, visit the official Toronto After Dark website.
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