UK Release Date: 24th March 2017
Runtime: 76 minutes
Director: Nicolas Pesce
Writer: Nicolas Pesce
Starring: Kika Magalhães, Olivia Bond, Diana Agostini, Paul Nazak, Will Brill
Synopsis: A young woman who grows up in near-total isolation in her rural home after experiencing an incident of shocking violence finds herself drawn into a world of murder and death as she tries to find her place in a world with which she has almost no contact.
Sometimes horror movies and arthouse cinema are awkward bedfellows. The former is often about tapping into our primal urges, whereas the latter asks us to be thoughtful and engage with material on a deeper level. Nicolas Pesce‘s debut feature The Eyes of My Mother walks that particular line nimbly in order to construct a movie that is undeniably arty, but also terrifying. The film is a quiet and often static journey through chilling subject matter, but there’s energy in the performance and a surprising amount of directorial invention. It’s a visually stunning piece of work, rendered in stark monochrome, that, at only 80 minutes’ long, never has the chance to outstay its welcome.
Francisca (Olivia Bond) lives with her mother (Diana Agostini) and father (Paul Nazak) on a secluded farm, idolising her mother and showing a real interest in her surgical dissections of animals. Creepy, but cheerful invader Charlie (Will Brill) enters their home one day and his visit culminates in the mother being bludgeoned to death in the bathroom. Decades later, Francisca (Kika Magalhães) is dealing with the death of her other parent and her isolation leads her into a very dark way of life.
There’s no doubt that The Eyes of My Mother is a film that won’t appeal to a certain corner of the horror fandom. Despite its grisly subject matter, there’s very little violence on the screen here and much of its horror is about suggestion. Pesce conjures up some macabre images that recall films as brutal as Audition and Hostel, but he shows great restraint in keeping much of that violence off the screen. Here, the purpose of the violence is the effect that it has on its perpetrator, rather than the wounds it leaves upon the victim – conveyed both in the perma-grinning visage of Will Brill and the icy detachment of Kika Magalhães.
It’s Magalhães who is handed the weight of much of the film’s second half, taking over from Olivia Bond’s more innocent, if unsettling, portrayal of a central character who has grown up in a world where slicing through an eyeball is a learning experience. The Eyes of My Mother becomes a showcase for Magalhães, who is menacing and maintains much of Bond’s innocence, despite what appear to be rather sociopathic tendencies. Scenes in which she twirls around the house or takes some alone time in her bedroom are reminiscent of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – another defiantly artsy monochrome horror from the last few years. Her performance is remarkable, as if the character is a coiled spring ready to explode into shocking brutality at any moment.
This is very much a movie geared towards a patient cinemagoer. Despite its incredibly lean running time, it’s a measured, slow story that doesn’t bother throwing in jolts and jumps to keep the audience interested. Pesce instead conjures up a sense of rising apprehension throughout The Eyes of My Mother, particularly as our protagonist’s killing seems entirely ungoverned by emotion. It’s about the thrill of the kill and we’re never quite sure when she will need a fix. One third act scene in a car is pregnant with tension as we are never clear how far our central character is willing to go.
The whole thing looks incredibly handsome and the black-and-white cinematography creates a certain icy alienation between the film and its audience that only serves to amplify its horror. Every killing is rendered as an ambiguous tableau of violence and beauty, making clear the thrill that the perpetrators of the film’s violence get from their actions. The Eyes of My Mother is a tough film at times, but it’s one that really gets under your skin and you’ll be thinking about its strange images for days.
Pop or Poop?
Jumps, jolts and gore are in short supply in The Eyes of My Mother, but Nicolas Pesce’s debut feature is a film that has no problem taking root deep in your brain. A selection of unsettling performances and a plot that is genuinely unpredictable help the film along, aided by monochrome visuals that are as striking as they are bizarre. This one won’t be playing in every cinema, but it’s worth tracking down.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
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