The Eyes of My Mother Review
Every so often a film appears that slowly finds its way under your skin, unnerving you slowly but surely, before you even realise it taking place. The most chilling horror films are those that can jolt you out of a comfort zone without losing your sense of fascination to discover what happens next. Once The Eyes of My Mother reaches its bitter end, removing yourself from its cold grip will probably take some effort.
Nicolas Pesce's debut film is a brilliantly mature piece of work from a first time director, showing real patience and composure by taking you deep into the dark heart of a strange family living in the countryside. The first few scenes subtly tell you that something isn't quite as it should be, before gradually smothering you under a quietly dense atmosphere.
The film is broken up into three chapters, Mother, Father and Family, each one detailing key sections in Francisca's life (played respectively by child actress Olivia Bond, and Kika Magalhães as the adult Francisca). Her mother (Diana Agostini) is a former surgeon, and the first chapter recalls some of the brief lessons passed on, which will become integral to her life as she grows up. There is an odd mixture of care and detachment blended into their dynamic, added to by the clinical actions her father (Paul Nazak) towards the end of the first act. Francisca’s story is one moulded almost explicitly by childhood experience, having spent her entire life as the only child on this farmland. Although this brief synopsis may feel a little loose, it is best to leave out much of the detail to avoid stepping into spoiler territory.
Even though the film was produced in America, there is a distinct European feel to the texture of the crisp black and white photography and studious pacing. You could imagine a director like Béla Tarr developing a similar world, punctuated with the same disconcerting silences and uncomfortable personalities. The script is sparsely dotted with minimal dialogue, crossing between the Portuguese and English language spoken in the family home, heavily informed by the lighting and slight nuances of Magalhães’ performance as the older Francisca. Pesce's control of the camera eerily creeps into position, drawing your eyesight in tighter to the haunting atmosphere that clings to the house and surrounding land.
Each chapter witnesses the seemingly innocent nature of Francisca being undone by her increasingly disturbing actions. None of which are done with malice in mind, merely searching for a way to connect with others and to soothe the loneliness created by her upbringing. Francisca’s secluded existence has created a sense of longing she can never truly understand or satisfy. A macabre sense of attachment encourages her to repeat the same cycles experienced as a little girl; a weird mixture of devotion, fascination and brutalised emotions.
The run time is a lean 87 minutes which helps counterbalance the restrictive dialogue and stark cinematography. It’s not often a director can put together such a fully realised debut so clearly stamped with their own identity, and that makes The Eyes of My Mother feel uniquely different from almost anything else released in the horror genre for the past few years. It’s almost as if this exists in another universe entirely, like some sort of gothic fairy tale spreading its myth through the ages.
The Eyes of My Mother is in cinemas from 24th March.