The Eyes of My Mother isn’t your average horror genre schlock. It avoids jump scares, traditional music cues, and even, for the most part, visual violence. Instead it opts for creeping tension, and a less is more approach. And it’s an approach that works on the whole, even if it does stretch itself a bit too thinly at times.
This is director Nicolas Pesce’s debut feature, and he’s nothing if not confident – this is bold, unique, and firmly individual filmmaking. Despite coming in at just an hour and seventeen minutes, the story, as minimalistic as it is, could realistically have been told in an even shorter runtime. But Pesce is smart enough to know that The Eyes of My Mother is as much about character as it is about plot. He allows time for the film to breathe, to linger, and for a sense of tension to grow from the lead’s increasingly disturbing acts, largely to success, but on occasion at risk of grinding proceedings to a halt.
The lead character: Francisca (Kika Magalhães), a girl with a fascination for the macabre who witnesses the death of her mother at a young age. Her acts: a series of torture and murder portrayed quite unlike anything you’ve seen before. There’s a moment where Francisca recounts how her mother had hoped she would be a surgeon one day…I doubt very much that this is what she had in mind for her daughter! The film is split into three distinct chapters, ‘Mother’, ‘Father’ and ‘Family’, each punctuated by death and violence. It becomes a study of how Francisca’s dark desires manifest, and how they conflict with her fear of being alone, with Magalhães’s fantastically detached portrayal of the character crucial to the piece. Whilst there’s an emotional detachment from Francisca, the placement of the camera also physically detaches her from the audience, unwilling to show the majority of her escalating crimes (or the crimes of others, for that matter), rather providing an uncomfortable level of gruesome detail through the delightfully disgusting sound effects.
This, alongside the gorgeous, black and white, shadowy silhouettes of the cinematography, gives the film a surreal edge throughout. There are moments where the (borderline) painful silence exacerbates pacing issues, but the dreamlike, otherworldly quality of the central performance, in combination with the fascinating visual style at the least demands attention. Because sometimes, actions can speak louder than words.
Rating (out of 5):
The Eyes of My Mother is in cinemas from 24 March.