The eyes of my mother

review by jake o'donnell

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and while that could be applied generally to all horror films perhaps none more so than director Nicolas Pesce’s debut film, The Eyes of My Mother. The film chills, unsettles and horrifies from its opening act. But, an original and well done film, there is undeniably a nightmarish beauty to it, even for the non-certified horror fan.

The film is the story of a disturbed antagonist, Francisca (played by Kika Magalhaes as a woman, and Olivia Bond as a child), who desperately, and by all means necessary, tries to escape the isolated nature of her life which was induced by the horrific deaths of her parents during her childhood.

Living alone in her run-down family home on a secluded farm somewhere in rural America, Francisca as a young woman only wants company, but her traumatic childhood and apparent lack of formal and social education lead her to seeking it out in increasingly troubling and horrifying ways throughout the film.

Having been taught how to dissect a cow and remove its eyes as a child, adult Francisca uses what her mother taught her and takes a keen interest in some rather unorthodox surgery and anatomy, which is shown in some of the most unbearable scenes your typical movie-goer will witness in a cinema. Unlike a lot of horror films though, the backstory to Francisca’s twisted and disturbed nature is not weak and illogical, we see her suffer in her isolation and there is a misplaced logic to even her most horrifying of actions.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, eyes are prominent features in many of the film’s main characters - at least those that still have their eyes in their head. The cold soul-splitting eyes of Francisca’s Portuguese surgeon mother (played by Diane Agostini) dominate the camera’s attention in the first scene as her heavy dark eye makeup and big black pupils leap out, even in the movie’s entirely black and white cinematography. Francisca’s eyes are large and striking too and it’s clear that a production emphasis has been put around the eyes of other figures throughout the film.

The technique of extending scenes to their absolute limit is employed time and time again throughout the film by Pesce, and effectively so, permitting maximum drawn-out discomfort during the film’s most horrific scenes. Francisca’s father’s elongated drive home in addition to a shaky over the shoulder camera shot in the film’s opening builds suspense as we await to see the extent of the tragedy suffered at home after Francisca’s mother let in a passerby by to use the bathroom.

Most of the film takes place in Francisca’s isolated farmhouse and detached barn, which along with monochrome visuals and productive use of shadowing and lighting gives the film a heightened classic horror feel to it. Francisca is a troubled main character, unwilling to let things go and ultimately desperate to get what she wants the most - human contact and affection.

A strong story with depth, crisp skillful cinematography, and capable of terrorizing your most basic of human emotions, this film stands out, as strong a debut as any for 26 year-old Pesce. Eerie, unsettling, and wholly horrifying, The Eyes of My Mother is certainly beautiful in the eye of this beholder. Stronger than your average horror film, but not for the faint-hearted.