The Eye (15); <br/>The Bunker (15)

The flesh and the spirit
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The Independent Culture

We still like ghost stories, even when we can see the twists coming a mile off. This week brings two films about revenants, The Eye a tale of damaged innocence, The Bunker a reckoning of collective guilt, and both of them thronged with ghosts of movies past. Originality is all but dead and buried in this genre; what we look for now is subtlety of effect, the exercise of restraint and at least one moment that makes us jump so hard we nearly end up on the seat in front of us.

We still like ghost stories, even when we can see the twists coming a mile off. This week brings two films about revenants, The Eye a tale of damaged innocence, The Bunker a reckoning of collective guilt, and both of them thronged with ghosts of movies past. Originality is all but dead and buried in this genre; what we look for now is subtlety of effect, the exercise of restraint and at least one moment that makes us jump so hard we nearly end up on the seat in front of us.

As if to pre-empt this, "Sit tight" warns a pre-credit title in The Eye, a supernatural chiller from Hong Kong film-makers Oxide and Danny Pang. Actually, the line which kept coming to mind was "I see dead people", as you will gather. Twenty-year-old Mun (Lee Sin-Jie), blind since infancy, has her sight restored thanks to a corneal transplant op but discovers she has been endowed with more than one kind of sight. The blurry black-clad figure she sees foreshadow sudden deaths, and rogue apparitions with disfigured faces lurk close behind her. (News about the former: the Grim Reaper has apparently ditched the tatty cowl for a trim jumpsuit). Terrified beyond endurance, she goes about investigating the deceased woman, Ling, from whom she inherited the curse of the corneas; it transpires that Ling was clairvoyant, a gift which eventually proved fatal to her when she was unable to save her fellow villagers from a fire. Shades of The Sixth Sense reverberate, and for older moviegoers perhaps also David Cronenberg's The Dead Zone, in which Christopher Walken was spooked by premonitions of death.

The Pang brothers, who made the hyperkinetic gangster movie Bangkok Dangerous, go heavy on disorienting the senses with lots of fast cutting and things going bump on the soundtrack. There's one spectacularly eerie sequence when Mun, about to step into an elevator, glances at the CCTV which shows an empty enclosure – in she goes, the elevator begins its ascent, and there, standing mute in the corner, is a man with half his face missing. At this point I was sitting tight, but I was not sitting comfortably. What the movie lacks is one or two strong characters for the heroine to play off, to anchor us in the everyday. True, there's a psychotherapist who tags along with Mun in her pursuit of her mystery donor, but he's thinly characterised and unmemorable as a romantic companion. There is perhaps less to it than meets The Eye, but this hasn't prevented it from being a hit across Asia and its rights being sold to Tom Cruise's production company. I could live without that remake.

The low-budget British film The Bunker begins with a portentous quotation from Nietzsche ("If you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you") though initially it feels closer in spirit to the irreverent and fractious militancy of Sven Hassel. The year is 1944, and a straggling troop of German soldiers are in retreat from the Allied forces. They find temporary refuge in an isolated anti-tank bunker, where an old reservist (John Carlisle) and a raw recruit (Andrew Lee Potts) are the only remaining watch – everyone else has been dispatched to the front. With quick, efficient strokes screenwriter Clive Dawson sketches in the not-so-magnificent seven soldiers just arrived, played by a bunch of British actors including Jason Flemyng, Jack Davenport and Andrew Tiernan (the psychopathic Nazi of the group), utterly exhausted and apparently spooked by their recent experiences.

Well, they ain't seen nothing yet. It transpires that below the bunker is a labyrinth of tunnels mysteriously abandoned years before: hopes of it being an escape route dwindle once the old man, a German counterpart to Fraser of Dad's Army, explains that they are all, in a word, doomed. The tunnels are built on haunted ground, he says, where plague victims of the Middle Ages were slaughtered and buried. You don't want to be going down there. And, of course, that's where they all end up, chasing shadows along the creepy corridors and imagining danger at every turn. But what is the danger? Director Rob Green intercuts the bunker narrative with flashbacks to an incident from the soldiers' past whose burden hauntingly emerges frame by frame; it's also one of few passages in the film that occur in broad daylight and without sound, a cleverly discomfiting contrast to the bunker which director of photography John Pardue lights as if it were a mausoleum. The greenish tinge of skin lends even the living a shockingly cadaverous look.

For a while the film maintains a clammy tension, and the performances aren't too bad – the cast do not, thank God, speak viz ze German accent or break into Bavarian drinking songs. It only slackens in the final 20 minutes as personal animosities flare into bouts of teeth-baring savagery, and a convenient munitions store is raided for the regulation bang. Even at the last, however, the film pulls off a memorably horrific image of stacked corpses that conflates the Holocaust with a Bosch-like vision of Hell, and lends the story a deeper resonance; the soldiers represent a Germany in flight from the historical atrocities of the Reich, which has turned half of Europe into a charnel ground. It succinctly expresses the spellbinding dread of the abyss that Nietzsche warned of gazing into.

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