By Steve Wetherel
If you’ve been watching a lot of mainstream cinema lately, you’d be forgiven if you were craving something a little different. Hollywood is a sugar rush of slick noise and big visuals. It’s fantastical junk food, and there’s nothing wrong with that... in moderation. Sometimes, though, it’s wise to slow down and appreciate something. Maybe step away from the stellar budgets and gaudy effects, and the familiar scripted beats.
Enter The Eyes of my Mother, a movie that delivers on a level all but bred out of mainstream horror. There’s no cheap jump scares here. No carefully tailored score to guide your emotions. No hysterical screaming and stumbling chase scenes. The horror at the core of Eyes of my Mother is a gentler, more sinister thing. It’s not a growl in the woods. It’s somebody gently taking your hand in a dark room, when you thought you were alone.
The film centres on a little girl, Francisca, who lives in a secluded farm house with only her doting mother and distant father. When a home invader shatters her simple life, it signals the beginning of a descent into quiet madness. Francisca grows into a woman with some very strange ideas about companionship, and the hapless strangers that wander into her life leave forever changed, or sometimes not at all.
The Eyes of my Mother is a slow creep of a movie, artfully laid out by writer director Nicolas Pesce. Quiet and understated, the sound design is intentionally rough, with seemingly unfiltered background noise serving in place of a score. The cinematography too is worth commenting on. Shot entirely in black and white, each frame is a very careful photograph- neat, simplistic and out of time. The cuts are sudden, abrupt and deceptively artless. All of this combines to lend an odd ordinariness to the horror which, given our protagonist’s demure demeanour, creates a curious fugue of disquiet throughout.
Credit is due to leading lady Kika Magalhaes, who perfectly inhabits the world Pesce creates. Gentle, impassive and strange, Kika exudes a kind of documentary subject relationship with the camera that brings to mind early Lynch movies. This is necessary to create that perfect storm of unease, where everything is at once ordinary and deeply strange.
The film’s flaw is inherent in its budget, or lack of. Many viewers are happy to sacrifice polish for something more raw and honest, but many viewers are not. In a world where indie film makers increasingly have access to cheap and powerful tools, perhaps it is not an unreasonable to demand something more consistently grand in vision and sound, or spectacular in content. Certainly a reportedly polarizing reception at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival would suggest it’s not for everyone. All in all, though, The Eyes of my Mother must be appreciated on its own terms- a horrific Slice of Life horror with emphasis on the Slice.
Overall I found this movie not just enjoyable, but refreshing, and as a debut for both director and star, film buffs and horror fans should follow both of their careers with interest.