Sitges 2022 Review: EVIL EYE, Blood & Magic Abound in Modern Mexican Fairy Tale
It's not easy to be the sibling of an ill child. You're expected to be more of an adult than you're prepared for, accept less attention from your parents, be brave and kind, when you yourself are still growing up and need the kind of focus that only a mother or father can give. Girls of this early teenage age are on a strange cusp, with a maturity forced upon them, but without the resources to handle it. Add in some witchcraft and an isolated location, and there's more trouble brewing than maybe one girl can handle.
While Mexican director Isaac Ezban (Parallels, The Incident) usually delves in science fiction, there's always a touch of the fairy tale. So it's no wonder that for his fourth feature, he dove right into that proverbial pool. Evil Eye is part fairy tale, part telenovela, as emotions run high and melodramatic in the most enjoyable way, with a twisted mystery to be solved and two innocent girls at the centre of a generations-old family feud.
Luna (Ivanna Sofia Fero) is a very sick little girl, and with another illness lurking in their apartment building, her parents Rebecca (Samantha Castillo) and Guillermo (Arap Bethke) have had enough of western medicine. Rebecca insists they take Luna and her older sister Nala (Paola Miguel) to her mother Josefa (Ofelia Medina), while they find a different cure. This feels like a death sentence for Nala, right in her teenage years and always needing to be connected to her friends. But in Josefa's country estate, there is no wifi, and she keeps the phone locked. Soon enough, between lack of stimulation and a scary storey told by the maid Abigal (Paloma Alvamar), Nala is convinced that a monster is sucking Luna's blood every night.
Nala might at first be resentful of the attention lavished on her sister (necessary as it might be), but there is still a protective side to her. The lack of a trusted adult means she's on her own, and she slowly begins to explore the great house, looking for any clues to prove her theory. We're kept between believing Nala and guessing this might be a product of a wild and bored imagination. With little else to occupy her, and a grandmother who, like her parents, solely fixates on her sister, it's no wonder Nala would look for something wrong.
Ezban does not bother with subtlety, a luxury a story like this works best without. The design is rich and lush, the drama over-the-top, and the constant questioning of whether Josefa is an evil witch-monster or simply a monster of a grandmother is a guessing game we're more than happy to participate in. Blood and sex and magic are the order of the day, and using as much practical effects as possible, we definitely feel immersed in this horrific and very adult tale, even as we want Nala to protect and if necessary save Luna. Everything is pins and teeth and knives and old paper that crackles like it's waiting to burst into flames and skin that you can almost smell as it reeks of old curses.
While it perhaps gives one or two too many false endings, Evil Eye plants an old and terrifying fairy tale in a modern setting quite easily, showcasing how certain unnatural desires will never allow a soul to rest easy, and that curses can last if the recipient is unwilling to let go of those desires. Its rich detail in storytelling and deft use of atmosphere and effects make for a dark refashioning of a somewhat age-old tale.
Mal de Ojo
- Isaac Ezban
- Junior Rosario
- Edgar San Juan
- Isaac Ezban
- Ofelia Medina
- Paola Miguel
- Samantha Castillo