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.