Del Toro returns to scare fare

Mexican helmer reteams with Rodar y Rodar

BENASQUE, Spain — Guillermo del Toro just can’t seem to turn down a project — particularly one in the line of smart, sophisticated chillers that has put Spain at the forefront of the contempo scarefare genre.

The prolific Mexican multihyphenate, currently in New Zealand prepping “The Hobbit,” will produce the dark Spanish-language thriller “Los ojos de Julia” (“Julia’s Eyes”) along with Barcelona’s Rodar y Rodar.

The project, which sees del Toro and the Spanish shingle reuniting after their previous collaboration, “The Orphanage,” is the latest to draw on the seemingly bottomless well of young genre talent in Catalan capital Barcelona.

“Julia’s Eyes,” which will be directed by Guillem Morales, who also co-writes along with Oriol Paulo, will be produced by Rodar’s Joaquin Padro and Mar Targarona and co-financed by Focus Features Intl. Universal Pictures Intl. will release the pic in Spain, Latin America and France. De Planeta is handling sales in the remaining international territories.

The pic, which has thesps Belen Rueda (“The Orphanage”) and Lluis Homar (“Broken Embraces”) attached to star, tells the story of a woman slowly going blind as she investigates the mysterious death of her twin sister. Lensing begins Oct. 5

Rodar also produced “An Uncertain Guest,” Morales’ feature debut, which mixed fact and delusion in its  Edgar Allen Poe-like chronicle of a young man’s guilt-driven descent into delirium. 

“Eyes” is shot from Julia’s POV, so the scare tactics include panic attacks as the protag’s sight fails.

But “Eyes” won’t be a simple schlock-a-thon. 

Del Toro helped broker the production deal with Focus Features Intl. and has helped supervise writing and casting. 

Says Padro: “The thriller’s an excuse to talk about a woman who overcomes her limitations; it’s a journey of self-discovery.”Thanks to the nearby Sitges fest, as well as Barcelona-shot pics such as “The Orphanage” and “REC,” the Catalan capital ranks among Europe’s foremost horror hubs. And like Japan and South Korea, Spain had a relatively late industrial revolution, which means that rural ghoul tales still resonate.

“Julia’s Eyes” reps a re-teaming of del Toro with Focus. The filmmaker’s shingle Cha Cha Cha, which he founded along with fellow Mexicans Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, has a five picture deal with Focus. del Toro also has a separate first-look deal with Universal Pictures.

It was Filmax that created an export-driven business model for horror pic production in the Fantastic Factory. Other producers are following suit:  ‘Eyes’ forms part of Rodar’s policy of making studio-backed films for the international market, says Padro.

A key question is how — and how far — Hollywood studios will become involved in Catalan scarefare. 

Budgeted at a contained E5.1 million ($7.2 million), “Eyes” points to a mixed financial formula, meshing studio equity and local coin. Majority co-production coin comes from Spain:  broadcast network film division Antena 3 Films, Catalan pubcaster TV3 and state film investment fund Mes Films.

Unlike in France, many young Catalan directors — often, like Morales, alums of Barcelona’s vibrant ESCAC film school — are unabashed ’80s U.S. scarefare fanboys, Padro points out. 

Adds Focus Features Intl.’s Clare Wise, who is supervising the production for FFI: “There seems to be a real appetite in Spain for this type of genre. They do this type of sophisticated horror film incredibly well.”

Emiliano de Pablos contributed to this report.

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