The Eyes of My Mother
2016. Directed by Nicolas Pesce.
Nicolas Pesce’s debut feature, The Eyes of My Mother is a reverse horror film that uses a three act format, stark black and white cinematography, and an intriguing central performance to deliver a disturbing and emotionally cold origin story. Featuring creepy visuals and odd pacing elements, this is a unique genre offering that fails to capitalize on it’s surprisingly humane subject matter, focusing on themes of isolation and the morality of violence as a means to connect.
Zach Kuperstein’s Noir camera work is spellbinding. Initially, the various static shots immediately conjure a likeness to Night of the Hunter, presenting ominous farmhouses and bewitching forest locales as hidden nightmares, bathed in deep shadows that are intricately manipulated by bold lighting and ingenious blocking compositions. The camera refuses to move for the majority of the film, only coming to life whenever the main character ventures from her rustic abattoir. Kuperstein’s decision to not double down on the odd angles of German Expressionism is a bold choice, clearly emulating the classics, but also presenting a fresh imagining of an overdone concept. There are several long takes, the best of which has the viewer looking through a curtained window into field in which a brutally slow horrific act is occurring. The body work by the participants and slick editing by Sam Daley uses the absence of violence and barely audible sound effects to terrorize without surrendering to visceral gore that allows the viewer’s mind to do the work.
Kika Magalhaes gives layered performance that entrenches itself in the constant alienation that saturates every part of the narrative. She is awkwardly sexy, bounding from victim to victim with child like wonder that is astutely juxtaposed from the viciousness. This is part of the film’s frustrating assembly. The idea of a coming of age story, in which the morality is murder and not tribulation is a fragile thing. Pesce’s command of the various elements used to communicate this is excellent for an initial work, but ultimately pushes the isolation theme to a place where the viewer can’t relate. Killing, sex, blood, and bondage all play a part, while underdeveloped themes of parenthood are forced at every turn, with chains undulating like umbilical cords and male bodies being contorted into a fetal positions. The ideas are there, but there is very little to support their inclusion, aside from the blatant symbolism.
Available now for digital rental, The Eyes of My Mother is a fantastic debut effort. Featuring some 2016’s best cinematography, this is a film that will scratch the horror itch, but for anyone less than a horror fanatic, the film’s unfeeling insinuations rebuke as much as the visuals entice. Despite this glaring flaw, The Eyes of My Mother is worth viewing for the spectacular presentation and delirious lead performance.