The Eyes of My Mother (2016) – Film Review
Director: Nicolas Pesce
Cast: Kika Magalhaes, Will Brill, Flora Diaz
by Rachael Popow
There’s a reason why art-house horror is a niche genre – you risk ending up with something that’s too ponderous for the gore enthusiasts and too gruesome for people who prefer arty camerawork to fake blood. But director Nicolas Pesce may just have cracked the formula with his striking debut, The Eyes Of My Mother. The film is in black and white, has subtitled sections, relies on atmosphere rather than jump scares – and is genuinely unsettling. It may not have the makings of a box-office smash, but cult status surely beckons. And Pesce is definitely a talent to watch.
The Eyes of My Mother follows Francisca, who we first meet as a young girl (played by Olivia Bond) living on an isolated US farm. Her Portuguese mother (Diana Agostini) was a surgeon in her native country and uses a cow’s head to offer her daughter a practical demonstration on the workings of the eyes. As a result, Francisca develops a precocious fascination with anatomy. But after she witnesses a shocking crime, her curiosity about the human body takes a very dark turn.
The years pass, and the adult Francisca (now portrayed by Kika Magalhaes, who manages to be simultaneously vulnerable and unnerving) is dealing with loneliness as well as childhood trauma, but her attempts to make a connection look set to end in horror.
“What we do see is often nightmarish”
To say much more about the plot would to be give too many of the scares away. But the good news for the squeamish is that the black-and-white photography helps to keep the bloodiness from becoming overwhelming and much of the violence takes place off-camera. There are also jumps in time, leaving the audience to fill in the gaps. Although no one would blame you if you didn’t want to think too hard about what exactly Francisca has been up to.
Still, what we do see is often nightmarish, even if through Pesce’s eyes it’s also sometimes oddly beautiful. There’s one particularly striking sequence where Magalhaes dances to a Portuguese record which would be haunting even if she wasn’t performing it to such an unusual audience.
And if it does all get too much for you, the film clocks in at a taut 77 minutes, so it will all be over soon – although The Eyes of My Mother will linger in your mind for much longer than that.