Perhaps I am mistaken, and I hope someone will advise me if I am, but I believe that The Eye makes history as the first in the crazy glut of Asian horror remakes over the last few years to come from a Hong Kong original, the Pang Brothers' Gin gwai (released in the anglophone world in 2002 as The Eye, though Seeing Ghosts is a more accurate translation). I admit that this fact is of virtually no significance to anyone, but it seemed worth mentioning, given how very little else it has to distinguish itself from all of the American J-horror flicks of the current decade.

The two movies do not have identical plots (even beyond the obvious contortions required to move a film from east Asia to southern California), but they're pretty close if you squint a little: Sydney (Jessica Alba), blind from childhood, is about to receive a cornea transplant when the story opens. The operation goes flawlessly, and Sydney is assigned a therapist, Dr. Paul Faulkner (Alessandro Nivola, whom you have probably seen in something, but you would also probably not recognise him even after this was pointed out to you), who specialises in cases such as hers. The "dealing with the stress of having vision for the first time in 16 years" part. Not the "seeing supernatural entities through your new eyes" part. For that is indeed what happens to poor Sydney: she starts seeing dead people all over the place, some of them newly dead and some long dead who don't realise it. Not to mention the scary, sharp-toothed wraiths who accompany the newly dead like a black angel. Or the nightmares that don't correspond to anything in Sydney's memories. Eventually, she concludes that whatever the hell is going on, the answer must be locked within the identity of her new corneas' donor.

The Pang Brothers' film was not a masterpiece, by any means, but what the directors lacked as storytellers they made up for with a smart style and a keen nose for good scare scenes - and the 2002 version of The Eye is indeed one of the most frightening movies made in the last several years. So we know that there's at least the potential for this plot to turn into a pretty nifty movie, if not necessarily a great one. I think that it is not going to surprise many of you, if I suggest that the 2008 Eye is not a great movie, nor is it nifty, nor in fact is it worth much time at all. As directed by the French team of David Moreau and Xavier Palud (who collaborated on the 2006 horror film Them, which apparently did well for itself in Europe, but I had not heard of until just now), this film suffers from just about every flaw endemic to the modern American horror genre: it's noisy, uses abrupt cuts in place of actual scares, relies far too much on CGI, it's glossy and bloodless in that grand PG-13 fashion, and stars a hopeless lead cast for her teenybopper sex appeal rather than any particular talent.

Oh, Jessica Alba! The hell of it is, I'm certain she wants to be a good actress. If she were just coasting on her looks and cashing checks for being sexy, she would surely never have signed on for a project that makes her look as ragged as she does in The Eye, with puffy red eyes and all. She tries. She fails. Most people just can't act, it's no reflection on their value as a person, but Alba. Can. Not. Act. At. All. Early in the film, when Sydney is still getting used to having sight, Alba is called upon to wander up and down hallways with a vacant expression on her face. It is the first time in her entire career that she has convinced me. Elsewhere in the film...but I won't dwell on it. She's not good, but she's not so bad to deserve any real blame for the movie's failures.

No, blame rests squarely on the directors, and the screenwriter Sebastian Gutierrez. Now, to be fair, the script isn't awful throughout; the dialogue is annoyingly functional, the exposition is too bald, the first act moves much too fast and the finale is completely botched, even compared to the original, where the ending was much the weakest part of the story. So maybe it is awful throughout. But what got to me wasn't any of the minor if pervasive flaws throughout the script but the audacity of one scene, where a Big Lie is told in such a way as to completely break the whole edifice for me. In the original film, the paranormal nature of the heroine's new eyes just was - it didn't have any explanation. But English-language horror films (along with most non-German European horror films, really) have always had a peculiar need to justify their paranormal aspects, and in The Eye that is achieved in a scene where Sydney and Paul discuss cellular memory. Sydney thinks that this might explain why her eye has retained the donor's psychic abilities, but Paul dismisses this, on the grounds that corneal transplants are such very minor surgery. That's it. Not a word about the possibility - probability - fact - that cellular memory is multicolored horseshit. Bad enough to answer a question that nobody in the audience was in fact asking, but to answer this unasked question with a "logical" explanation that makes just as little sense as the paranormal event, this ripped me right out of the movie as thoroughly as if every scene had begun with the directors yelling "action".

So, at long last, I return to Messrs. Moreau and Palud. If nothing else, they make The Eye a master class in why remakes fail - some scenes are staged just exactly the same as they were in the original film, but with just a handful of tiny differences - the music, the lighting, the giant snarling CGI wraith - that completely wreck what was once terrifying, and is now just silly. At other points, their staging is nothing like the original, in ever case going for that which is more obvious and therefore less effective. Sometimes, of course, they are staging events that weren't in the first film at all, but we'll blame Gutierrez for those.

All in all, The Eye is a complete waste. There is a theory that the only films that should be remade are those with great concepts and uneven execution, and the original Gin gwai meets that definition to a T. But it is a work of the sturdiest art next to this American hack job, a film of no distinction of any kind, destined only to fill the late hours at some 10-year-olds' sleepover party.