Movie Review: THE EYES OF MY MOTHER – impressive, nihilistic horror debut for young moviemaker Nicolas Pesce.

Image result for eyes of my mother poster

I’d been awaiting The Eyes of My Mother for almost a year.  I remember hearing some buzz back in April or May last year from a friend who had seen a print and raved about it.  “You saw Audition, right?” he asked.  Well sure, I’ve seen Audition, and almost every Takashi Miike movie – but I can’t say I’m a particular fan of his work.  If The Eyes Of My Mother was being compared to Audition, I was interested, but knew I’d approach my eventual viewing warily.  Not that I don’t like gore, and not that I can’t take disturbing content – I watched the infamous “three  guys one hammer” video unflinching, and that’s like stunt-eating the hottest wings on the planet.  Once you’ve watched THAT, something like Audition isn’t going to make a major impact.

So after being sent a copy of the movie I finally got around to watching last night.  Is it impressive?  Not in terms of graphic content, no.  Cinematically, I’ve seen more disturbing things, and there’s almost no out-and-out gore in the movie.  In terms of content, it also isn’t nearly as graphic as Audition, even if its playing in much the same sandbox.  Here’s the story.  There once was a little girl, whose parents were a lot older then she was.  The father was a laconic farmer type, but her mother was once a skilled surgeon who specialized in the eyes.  Well one day, a bad man came and hurt the mother badly, so badly that when the little girl’s father returned home, he got back at the bad man, and so did the little girl.  When that little girl grew up into an attractive young woman, the solitude of rural life, and that earlier incident in her life really messed her up, so now she has become kind of like the bad man that hurt her mother.  I told the story like that partially to not give out major spoilers, but also because I saw the story as a kind of fairy story, the likes of which The Brothers Grimm may have told with only a couple of changes.

Where the movie does impress is in a number of other areas.  The child actress who plays the little girl (Olivia Bond) gives a great performance as Francisca, totally embodying the extreme of scientific detachment.  Demented is probably too strong a word for someone that age, but then you look at the events of the Slenderman attempted murder in Wisconsin back in 2014, and you realize that kids actually CAN be stone cold in how they relate to other humans.  The detachment of the character is fascinating when seen as “making of a murderer” origin sequence, because it’s soon after this that the movie jumps ahead to the present, or at least when Francisca is now a young woman and played by Kika Magalhães.  It’s not immediately clear when the movie takes place, but it felt like the late 80s or early 90s due to the lack of consumer technology and the outfit worn by one of the minor characters, played by Clara Wong.  Not that it’s relevant, but I’ve discussed at length with a peer the increasing difficulty of writing horror in today’s technologically advanced age.  Setting your movie at a time when both the victim and the threat (supernatural or otherwise) were not influenced by technology is easy, but also kind of a cop out.  Consider this a tangent – I’m in no way belittling the effort of Nicolas Pesce, the writer and director of this movie.  This is the guy’s first feature, and he’s already made something with the quality that many low budget moviemakers can only ever dream of attaining.  On the strength of this movie, Pesce has a bright future ahead of him.  For me, this was the single most impressive element, but again, I can’t downplay the other strong pieces.  Francisca-as-adult is also a memorable character.  As played by Magalhães, Francisca’s earlier scientific coldness has been somewhat replaced by an animalistic, vulpine curiosity.  Not surprising, considering how she has grown up on the farm, mostly alone and cut off from contact with other people.  She is in control of her small world, and her actions while seeming foolhardy, are likely coming from the position of never having to be guarded or cautious about her actions.

The first half of the movie is mostly all character work, but at the midpoint, the movie takes on a new direction, as all well constructed screenplays must.  Francisca’s curiosity about life, coupled with the sudden awareness of her crushing solitude, leads her to commit a specific, terrible act not long after a badly failed attempt to form a relationship with another person.  The scene in the barn that follows this is probably the most disturbing imagery in the movie, as we get to see the aftermath of Francisca’s handiwork.  Visually it’s gruesome, but even worse is the absolute dehumanizing effect of the violence upon this particular victim.  When watching this brief scene, I felt a great sense of bleakness and nihilism here.  At least when we saw young Francisca, we did not see the immediate after effects of her actions.  Here, its clear that there’s very little humanity contained within the adult Francisca, just an overwhelming void that she’s unable to satisfy.  It’s top notch character work from Pesce on the writing/directing side, and from Magalhães in front of the camera, and at no time does ever feel like a happy fluke, or grand cosmic alignment.

I have a strong issue with the timespans involved in the movie, particularly in how they relate to three characters and their situations, and the effect on their bodies.  It doesn’t completely detract from the movie, but it distracted me while I was watching.  Similarly, the absolute ending did nothing for me.  At the least I expected a lengthier climax, and the most I hoped for a more thought out ending.  I understand why the story ended the way it did, but I would have preferred more of a lead-in to that kind of ending.  As it is, it was way too abrupt for me, and it plays as if Pesce had writing himself into a corner leaving him literally no more room to maneuver.  I was disappointed, and I think many people will feel the same.  Not exactly a cheat, but there’s nothing in the way of a payoff after sitting through the movie invested in a character who doesn’t ever deserve the path that life put her on.

I struggled with the rating for this.  The minuses are not huge, but the pluses are not so huge either.  In the end, it’s fair to say that The Eyes Of My Mother deserves the buzz, and that it could be the launchpad for a bold new talent like Nicolas Pesce.  But if I have to struggle to give a rating, I’ll round down 100% of the time.

3.0/5.0

© 2017 Andrew Hope

 

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