The Eyes of My Mother is an intensely disturbing horror-drama and yet for all its unforgettable scenes and the powerful, visual memories of horrific events, I believe there’s an impressive strength here which is driven by the sharp edges evoking a realistic nightmare in what could be ‘any town’ with its idyllic, remote home setting somewhere in the American countryside.
Focusing around the life of Francisca (magnificently portrayed by Kika Magalhaes as an adult and Olivia Bond as a child), The Eyes of My Mother has been split into three parts, namely ‘Mother’, ‘Father’, and ‘Family’, by debut writer/director Nicolas Pesce. Starting with Fran as a young girl, living on a farm with her parents, her Mother is brutally murdered by a stranger who stumbles upon their home and invites himself in to use their bathroom. He’s an utterly creepy individual but there’s no guessing where the film will turn from there, and only time will show us the affect it has on Fran as the years pass by. In truth, her actions over the movie are somehow a reflection of the lonely existence that’s initiated in a haunting first ten minutes.
Shot in black and white, with exquisite photography throughout, the approach keeps you captivated by the beautiful visuals yet simultaneously horrified by specific happenings. The Eyes of My Mother is one of those films where it’s best not to give away the process and despite the use of chains, knives and sowing needles, I didn’t feel any of it was unusual or beyond the character we see created. Although a huge fan of some classic horror, I occasionally struggle with modern approaches of gore and death for the sake of it but Pesce manages to completely avoid cliché and, instead, drag you into a shocking world that has a striking complexity of sense.
Also, despite the death that will come our way, the calm, visceral natures of Francisca’s murderous tenancies are never uncontrolled or frenzied, they’re purposeful and to a degree that brings her both relief and satisfaction. Where I’ve seen psychological horror that pushes the boundaries for a cinematic pay-off, The Eyes of My Mother sits more troublingly within the possibilities of reality and I think that’s why it sticks so vividly.
It’s worth nothing that both the technical ability of Pesce and how scenes are crafted with cinematographer Zach Kuperstein, as they really create moments of such force that we don’t even need to see what she’s done to her victims. Those things we don’t see become the imagination and that, my friends, is always worse when smart directors choose to let us decide what happened. The film is intelligently layered with a haunting, Twin Peaks-like score from Ariel Loh that builds a heightened tension and pulls out every sound and scratch, so even the quiet moments seem to echo in and beyond the screen.
The Eyes of My Mother is one of the most disturbing movies I’ve seen in many years, mainly because of the silence, the unknown emptiness of the mind and disconnection from life around it and yet, somehow, you still continue to watch and experience something highly unusual. Something akin to a wheel of life you’ll hopefully never see. There’s a lot to be said for films that truly affect, much like Under the Skin, because you don’t know what happened or where you’ve been but it certainly did happen and it’s not a moment you’ll easily forget.