MAGNET RELEASING (2017)
Director: Nicolas Pesce
Starring: Kika Magalhães, Olivia Bond, Diana Agostini, Paul Nazak, Will Brill, Flora Diaz
They say loneliness can kill.
In the case of The Eyes of My Mother, they would be right. Francisca (Magalhães) has endured enough terror in her young life – the brutal murder of her mother, her father departing this world and the…torture and imprisonment of her mother’s murderer? Standard stuff. The movie delves into the psychological trauma faced by loss, trauma and isolation and this is very much Francisca’s story.
Cut into three stages of her life, it’s a strange ride.
Living in a rural farmhouse, Francisca is a young child growing up isolated from the larger world. Her Portuguese mother (Agostini) is an eye surgeon, routinely dissecting animals and giving Francisca an early indifference towards death. This is shattered, however, when Charlie (Brill), a door-to-door salesman, arrives and promptly murders her mother brutally in their home. Her father (Nazak) returns and inflicts unseen justice on Charlie who is later chained in the barn and mutilated. Nice.
Francisca develops a strange kinship with Charlie, and whilst her father is rendered near-mute by the death of his wife, Francisca seems unaffected. Seems. As she grows and falls deeper into insanity, Francisca’s life takes a new turn as she internally embraces the trauma and, in an attempt to make her mother proud, launches a shocking set of events, all performed with the utmost innocence and calm. It’s like a messed up dream.
Debutant Nicolas Pesce has a clear eye for art. The Eyes of My Mother is shot beautifully in monochrome – an idea less gimmick, more effective – and utilises the staples of European horror well. Static long shots and large passages without any dialogue frequent the narrative and if you’re looking for a bloody home invasion movie or just ‘standard’ horror, you will be disappointed. Pesce utilises his eye for artistic framing and shooting with a groaning soundtrack and almost peaceful pace to build the dread or tension. There’s no need to rush, even with a tight 76 minute runtime.
The on-screen images depict the disintegration of Francisca and imply the damage done to victims or the hapless in the movie. The gory bits are all handled off-screen, with the exception of a severed hand here or a pool of blood there. A less restrained director could have turned this into a psycho slasher flick, but Pesce keeps an air of dreaminess to Francisca at all times. Kika Magalhães is bizarre, creepy and almost childlike in her performance. Every step seems as if she is floating and any interaction with others is handled with an awkward confidence. In her pursuit of company, she doesn’t appear to believe that what she does is in any way wrong. It’s a compelling performance.
As a horror movie, this won’t be for everyone’s taste. At times the pacing is too slow and the necessity to shock begins to wear thin, however as a horror movie, it’s handled like any good production should be – with restraint, using technique to craft the atmosphere and allowing the viewer to imagine what’s happening off-screen at any moment. There are some nightmarish visuals weaved in and the movie isn’t entirely straight-edged regarding showing disturbing images, it’s just clever in what it choose to show. It’s like a distant cousin to French horror classic Martyrs, just not as visceral.
The Eyes of My Mother is an interesting movie, a slow burner and a fairly-tormenting experience. With beautiful and haunting imagery working hand-in-hand, there’s plenty to look at and this at times does well to cover a thin plot.
Half English, half Portuguese, all peculiar.
August 24th 2017