Atmospheric horror has been doing a comeback in the last few years, but writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s debut feature, The Eyes of My Mother, is so much more than that. Reminiscent of old horror and suspense movies, this low-budget film cleverly makes use of strong visuals and a charismatic protagonist to deliver a memorable, creepy experience that has deservedly been attracting much attention in the independent circuit.
Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) lives with both parents in an isolated house. There is a very unusual relation with death in the house, as Francisca’s mother was an eye surgeon in Portugal and teaches her child the mysteries of the body. When a stranger gets to the house and kills Francisca’s mother in a brutal, animalistic manner, the girl’s world changes dramatically. Ignored by her father, she finds herself looking for love in all the wrong places, as she keeps putting into practice her mother’s teachings.
A slow, atmospheric moody film, The Eyes of My Mother was mostly based around the strange aura of actress Kika Magalhaes, who delivers a fantastic performance here as a devious woman that inspires our deepest sympathies. The dialogues are sparse, and scenes iconic – from young Francisca cleaning her mother’s blood while the father watches TV, to the ritualised killings. However, there’s no explicit violence on the screen. Pesce keeps it evocative, while DoP Zach Kuperstiein frames each shot like a painting, in glorious old-timey black and white – meaning we don’t get to see blood red in all its screaming glory. The cherry-on-top soundtrack, by Ariel Loh, adds to the eerie quality of everything we see, and gives no way out of this strange, macabre story and character.
Loneliness can do strange things to the mind, says Francisca’s mother at some point, and the greatest achievement of The Eyes of My Mother is that we can’t hate Francisca no matter how hard we try. If she was already strange from the beginning, or if it was her mother’s awful death that really started it, doesn’t matter in the end: she’s just a woman that desires human contact and companionship, and Kika, wisely, never plays her as a villain at any point. It’s hard to believe this is a debut feature for both her and the director; we definitely hope they will go on to do other great things. In the meantime, if you are missing your fix of intelligent, old-style horror, go see this. It’s worth the nightmares.
The Eyes of My Mother will be in UK cinemas in 24th March 2017