DIR: Nicolas Pesce • WRI: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick • PRO: Max Born, Jacob Wasserman, Schuyler Weiss • DOP: Zach Kuperstein • ED: Nicolas Pesce, Connor Sullivan • DES: Nigel Phelps • DES: Sam Hensen • MUS: Ariel Loh • CAST: Kika Magalhaes, Dianna Agostini, Will Brill, Flora Diaz
Subverting and switching the expectations of a genre can make for thrilling cinema, but merely shooting in black and white and slowing down the pace does not alone a good film make. Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut dresses a torture-porn horror in a stylish arthouse cover which, intriguing as this mash-up sounds, results in something that leaves both these aspects fully unrealised. There’s a lot of ideas in the film – just don’t ask me what any of them were supposed to be. Deeply disturbing, and with just enough visual tantalisations to boast the director’s skill, The Eyes of My Mother is a film that only few could enjoy, or at very least stomach.
Divided into three chapters, we first meet a young Francisca living on an isolated farm with her mother (Dianna Agostini), a former surgeon from Portugal, with a particular penchant for removing cows’ eyeballs. Their quiet lives are interrupted one day by a travelling salesman (Will Brill) with more than commission on his mind, sharply turning the film in a violent and upsetting direction. From there on in, torture, mutilation and death become the norm for the now grown Francisca (Kika Magalhaes), whose yearning for companionship is constantly overridden by her deep fear of the unknown world outside the farmyard and her lingering murderous urges.
For his first feature film, Pesce handles his content with the confidence of a much more seasoned director. Shots are well composed, the movement is smooth, except in places where it is not supposed to be, and he uses the limited colour palette of the monochrome cinematography to its full advantage. Where the film really stands strong, however, is its atmosphere. A consistent level of dread maintained from the first shot. The structure of the film ensures that we are only granted small glances at any one point into the character’s life. And yet, even before the real horror begins, there is a sense that something is not quite right with this family, that there is something strange in their attitude to violence which ultimately informs the person Francisca grows up to be.
The problem is a lot of the issues raised in the film are only ever half-explored. The time-jumps mean that we never really get see the inner-workings of Francisca’s mind or any hint as to her true motivations. Pesce proves that that the inter-mingling of arthouse compositions and classic horror tropes can work on a visual level, but he still has some work to do proving that in can work on a narrative level as well. While it is clear that the alienation of the audience from the events on screen was purposeful to a degree, it can also make at times for a tedious watch. At only 77 minutes long the film does not overstay its welcome, but the abrupt ending give rise to the question whether time wasted on duller moments could have been better utilised for a more substantial climax.
Overall, this is a film that will appeal to fans of horror and the non-squeamish. At the very least this chilling piece of cinema should be acknowledged for deviating from the norm and showing that horror on film should not be confined to cheap jump-scares. However, while diversity in classic genres should be encouraged, it is important to remember that ‘different’ does not always equate to ‘better’.
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The Eyes of My Mother is released 24th March 2017