Horror on Netflix

The Eyes of My Mother

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The Eyes of My Mother (2016) – Horror 

Directed by: Nicolas Pesce

Starring: Kika Magalhaes and Olivia Bond

How I Watched: Netflix

Review by Eric Scot Lemons

Opening on a sultry black and white shot of some goddamn trees, that is quite possibly the most beautiful shot of trees I have seen outside of a BBC Planet Earth special, The Eyes of My Mother is almost jarring in its simplicity. I had heard a many creepy story of this film, most notably by my mother, who accidentally turned it on one night and sat through the whole thing. “It’s really dark,” she said. She wasn’t fucking kidding. It is a film about solitude and grief’s effect on the human psyche, blatantly starting off with a mother describing to her child the religious ecstasy of Francis of Assisi, canonized in 1228 after receiving the stigmata after years of loneliness. This connection between solitude and violence is a central theme, I think.

The mother and her daughter are seen cutting out the eye of a cow in a scene that seems to pay homage to the 1929 Surrealist film by Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel, Un Chien Andalou, which uses a cow’s eye as stand-in for a woman’s eye, which is stand-in for the way the clouds seem to cut through the moon. But you’ve seen that film. You know what I’m saying.

The mother is a surgeon, or was in Portugal, and is seemingly teaching her young daughter the family craft. Soon, a stranger arrives at the home played amazingly to creeptastic effect by Will Brill, who played that methy prisoner in The OA if you watched that. He smiles and his eyes bulge like a Peter Lorre impressionist. He looks like a fucking evangelist with his white shirt and black slacks, but presents an almost immediately ominous tone. He is an animal and they his prey. They regard him with the same poise and caution one would present a rabid wolf. But by the time the Father arrives, the mother is no more. The discovery of her demise is pitch perfectly played with the camera following the Father and the audience hoping to press the brakes for fear of the barbaric sounds coming from the bathroom. The animal is subdued and like any animal, chained in the barn. Perhaps the Father has more torturous plans for the stranger. Maybe he just doesn’t have the ability to kill another human being. But his daughter steps in, ten years old at the most, and after seeing her Father’s agitation toward his screams for help, the girl decides to cut out the eyes and vocal cords of the creature, but not before he relays to her the secret behind why he kills. Because it feels so good.

The film then follows as the girl, Francisca, is now an adult woman. She is played by Kika Magalhaes in a mixture of intense angst and far-off stares. She is beautiful and slender and sports the jet black hairstyle of Chantal Goya in Masculin Feminin. Her father has died and she still yearns for her mother, while tenderly caring for the blind and mute stranger locked in her barn. The film turns to story of a young monster while she preys on locals in a pursuit to regain the family she has lost. The final impact of her life comes in a gunshot heard from a drone filming above the familial home.

I like this film and would recommend it to anyone, but for reasons outside of it being a great film. It is honestly one of the more stunning hour and twenty minutes you will find within the horror genre. The subject matter is dark and disturbing on every count as you ride along on very stark journey into the mind of a killer. Scenes are complex with many layers and alternative viewpoints to be gleaned. But the story in and of itself doesn’t have much to say. I found myself constantly amazed by what I was watching, yet questioning, what the fuck is the point? Should I just be shocked or is this film saying something outside of the context of the film?

It feels like it relies so much on the momentum of the callous way that Francisca destroys her fellow humans in the search of a connection, that it doesn’t collect anything worth saying about the human condition. The film never stands up for the protagonist or makes excuse for why she acts the ways she does, and in another film, this could be seen as a strong point, but in this one, it feels like a cop out. The entire third act feels rushed and devoid of the very relationship building it needs in order for the audience to feel the full weight of the climax. It just ends.

Ultimately, go see it. Turn it on Netflix and revel in its beauty. Think about it for days but don’t be surprised if you find nothing of value on the other side of all that thinking.

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We Are Still Here

weare

We Are Still Here (2015) – Horror | Drama

Directed by: Ted Geoghegan

Starring: Barbara Crampton and Andrew Sensenig

How I Watched: Blu-Ray

Best Line: “You’re not leaving here. You stay, you satisfy the darkness.”

A good haunted house movie is defined by the house itself. It has to use the house in a way that it stands as its own character, impacting the story in a way that you, as the viewer, do not want to be in that house. It has become a difficult feat in modern horror cinema, something that was taken to heart back in the 1970’s. The Shining and The Exorcist both used their surroundings to scare the living hell out of their audiences and first-time director Ted Geoghegan knows this well.

We Are Still Here‘s house is a prime example of how to use the setting as an effective character. The movie begins with the characters driving up to the house and then shots of the lonely rooms inside of its antiquated shell. Each great shot is dripping with dread and it really does not let up from these first few moments for the rest of the film. Setting this in the 1970’s was extremely effective as well. The absence of cell phones in We Are Still Here plays a big part in this story and I think Geoghegan knew this when he wrote it.

The cast is not especially incredible but it does not really need to be. Barbara Crampton plays the grieving and ever-optimistic mother role pretty well, carrying a few scenes that really needed a convincing performance. Andrew Sensinig does a convincing enough job as her husband and Lisa Marie plays a pretty damn good hippie with self-professed mental gifts. Monte Markham has a particularly good turn as the film’s menacing antihero, growling his way through some pretty dark scenes.

We Are Still Here‘s standout performance though, comes from Larry Fessenden. Evoking a stoner Jack Nicholson from The Shining, Fessenden grabs the screen from his first appearance as Jacob Lewis, husband of Lisa Marie’s bohemian telepath. He seems immediately lovable, providing the film with its first hints of levity from the opening credits. His ultimate scene though, is one of the most intense in the movie, reminiscent of The Exorcist at its most extreme. This scene will cause you to grit your teeth and sink into the safety of your couch and was really the standout of the film, for me at least.

Though We Are Still Here is set in the 70’s, the movie feels like it was filmed in that decade as well. It seems purposely low budget, not dirty, but not very polished. Scenes are awash in a sea of grey and earthy tones, making the red in the especially gory scenes stand out that much more. CGI is used sparingly, Geoghegan springing instead for physically acted frights. There are not many jump scares to speak of and darkness is used cleverly by the film’s cinematographer. The score is not overbearing and its electronic elements remind me a lot of Fulci’s films, as well as Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

I think why I enjoyed this movie so much was due to how they used the house. One of the most repeated quotes by multiple characters in We Are Still Here is, “This house needs a family,” suggesting ultimately, that the house itself is an active character. This idea has frightened me since I saw The Shining for the first time, imagining that an inanimate object can bend the will of humans. It gives me shudders and this film carries this idea out masterfully.

We Are Still Here definitely isn’t perfect. It precariously rides the fine line between B-Horror throwback and haunted house hall of fame. Some may understandably find the low budget schlock angle off-putting and even a bit silly. What the film lacks in polish though, it returns in a deliciously vicious mountain of dread. It takes quite a bit of love and dedication to make a haunted house movie this well, and to learn that this is director Ted Geoghegan’s debut is very impressive. I really can’t wait to see what he has for us next.

Final Score: 3.5/4

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Similar Films: The Innkeepers, The Evil Dead, The Shining