The Eyes of My Mother is too horrific for the arthouse crowd, and too arty for the horror crowd
At what point does an art film become shlock? The Eyes of My Mother, Nicolas Pesce’s hideously unpleasant debut feature, is clearly aiming for the arthouse crowd; filmed in stark black-and-white, the film is too slow and uncompromising to reach mainstream horror fans. However, the levels of gore and psychological torture on display have mostly been seen in torture porn and New French Extremity, meaning only the most hardened arthouse fan could sit through it. Despite some interesting imagery and a unique style, The Eyes of My Mother won’t quite satisfy either audience.
Produced by Borderline Films (Afterschool, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Christine), The Eyes of My Mother follows Francisca (played as a child by Olivia Bond and as an adult by Kika Magalhaes), a girl whose already-disturbing childhood in an isolated farmhouse is shattered when a mysterious home invader murders her Mother. Keeping him chained up in the barn, Francisca grows more deranged as she gets older, committing a disturbing act that even the toughest viewers will struggle to watch. With its stark imagery, detached performances, and deliberate pace, The Eyes of My Mother almost plays like Michael Haneke’s Hostel or Ingmar Berman’s Martyrs, but lacks the wit of the former or the sensuality of the latter.
Opening with a woman casually dissecting a cow’s head in front of her young daughter, The Eyes of My Mother is clearly the work of a director aiming to repel and unnerve his audience. Pesce has an eye for arresting visuals, and the cinematography is some of the finest in a horror film in years; certain images will be burned in your retinas long after the film finishes. However, despite crafting some memorably horrific setpieces, Pesce’s screenplay lets the film down. It’s fine to centre a film around an unlikable protagonist, but Francisca is painfully dull; no matter how many violent crimes she commits or evil decisions she makes, she remains a total blank of a character. If you’re making a character study of a psychopath, it helps to actually write a character, rather than a series of unpleasant tics.
Made to be respect rather than loved, The Eyes of My Mother is an effective debut for Nicolas Pesce, but it isn’t a particularly a good one. The visuals are often superb and fans of extreme gore and psychological violence will be suitably repulsed, but without a gripping story or interesting characters, the film has to get by on increasingly upsetting twists and even more upsetting violence. Too extreme for the arthouse crowd and too arty for the horror crowd, The Eyes of My Mother is unlikely to find much of a following.
By Harry J. Ford
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