‘The Eyes of My Mother’ effectively drives you to look away
Written/Directed by: Nicolas Pesce
Starring: Kika Magalhaes, Diana Agostini, Olivia Bond, Will Brill, and Paul Nazak
“The Eyes of My Mother” – “Loneliness can do strange things to the mind.”
Mother (Diana Agostini) tells a story about St. Francis to her young daughter, Francisca (Olivia Bond), and closes the tale with the above quote. Little does the girl realize the supreme accuracy of her mom’s statement. Not only does “The Eyes of My Mother” prove that loneliness can do strange things to the mind, but it can also drive twisted and depraved ones as well, in the one of the most unforgettable films of 2016.
Presented in black and white and set in – what looks to be – the 1950s, an innocent-looking farm house sits in the rolling hills of, possibly, the rural Midwest.
Small town America. Quiet. Peaceful.
A place where a casual conversation might be pleasantly drowned out by the chirping of the surrounding crickets.
Oddly, Mother, who looks more like a grandmother with decades of angst and stress carried in her face, cuts open a cow’s eyeball at the kitchen table and explains its anatomy to Francisca, who hangs on every word. Later that day, a strange man approaches the house, and unfortunately, Mother and Francisca do not heed the classic warning, “Don’t talk to strangers.”
Rather than solely focus on the events of that day, 26-year-old writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s film presents that aforementioned, fateful moment as a seedy seed planted into the mind of a future killer, and the audience witnesses its aftereffects on a grownup Francisca (Kika Magalhaes). Short, demure and slight, Francisca would be hard pressed to physically intimidate anyone. If a stiff gust of wind huffed by, there is a better than average chance that it would knock her over. On the other hand, with dark hair, black eyes and chalky-white skin, she also comfortably carries a vampire-like look, and with her soft-spoken demeanor, she can easily create a false sense of trust.
Trust me when I state that Francisca is immensely dangerous, and Pesce’s camera skillfully captures her exploits with – sometimes - a minimalist approach. For instance, the audience may witness an act of violence from a noticeably distant point of view or just out of frame. In one scene, we only see the aftermath of bloodshed during an “ordinary” moment of cleanup, due to the mess that was just enacted off camera. Generally speaking, murderous close ups are not particularly necessary in an effective use of “less is more” in the horror genre, and I applaud it here. On the other hand, immediate murder is not always Francisca’s modus operandi, and conversely, the film absolutely features the sickening sights and sounds from the results of her carefully crafted decisions.
Pesce shoots his beautifully horrific creation with a distinct arthouse flair and constructs an isolated environment, in which no one can hear you scream and no one can see the merciless transgressions.
Although, we see and want to look away.
With a runtime of just 76 minutes, Pesce does not mince words or waste time with the narrative. He does, however, hold the camera (in place) long enough during a number of ghastly sequences that will make you crave a shower after the film’s conclusion to wash away the vile nature of humanity that you just experienced as a semi-willing viewer. At the same time, no mere antiseptic rinse can remove the portrait of woman - brought up in a wholly unhealthy environment - from one’s mind, as Francisca promises to slink into an accessible mental crawlspace. Loneliness may do strange things to the mind, but be warned: “The Eyes of My Mother” may trigger permanent damage.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.