“Why would I kill you? You’re my only friend.”
The Eyes of My Mother is a nightmare.
A beautiful, fairy tale-like nightmare rendered in stark black and white. Is it allegorical, metaphorical? Is it someone’s terrifying waking dream, plucked from a subconscious for all to see? Can it be all these things, and more?
First-time writer-director Nicolas Pesce has constructed a slice of American Gothic that is brimming with untold dread. Even before anything terrifying happens there is the unmistakable hint of bad omens, and horror to come. One day while young Francisca (Olivia Bond) and her mother (Diana Agostini) are alone on their secluded farm they’re visited by a stranger. Wearing a white button-up shirt and possessing an uneasy pleasantness, the stranger (Will Brill) seems at first like some sort of skeevy door-to-door salesman but reveals a much more sinister nature. By the time Francisca’s father (Paul Nazak) returns home, the mother is dead and the stranger is doing something to her corpse. The father knocks the killer unconscious and chains him up in the barn. And that’s when things get really weird.
Like a tone poem crossed with a fever dream, The Eyes of My Mother unfolds over three chapters (“Mother”, “Father”, “Family”), following Francisca as she grows into an alluring and dangerous young woman, played with a hypnotic grace by Kika Magalhaes. Francisca is sure of only one thing: she doesn’t want to be alone. And she has some fairly warped methods to stave off loneliness.
To describe anymore of what happens in The Eyes of My Mother would be a crime. Several characters here end up blinded, and you, too, will be best served by going into the film blind. What you must know, though, is how staggeringly assured and gorgeous this film is. “Nightmare” will be the first and foremost word that comes into your mind as the film unfolds, but what a stunning nightmare it is. Director Pesce and cinematographer Zach Kuperstein strike a remarkable contrast between the horror of the film and the landscape it exists in. The camera lingers on imagery that’s simultaneously luscious and repellent.
The Eyes of My Mother almost defies explanation.
How can a story that’s so inherently horrific and unpleasant be so achingly lovely? Pesce has somehow tapped into a coursing, phantasmagorical pulse; a lunatic wavelength imperceptible to most ears. This is intoxicating, illuminating horror filmmaking at its finest. The Eyes of My Mother will find a place in your psyche and take up residence. Don’t be surprised if it keeps you up at night, laying in the ticking darkness, your eyes wide and seeing nothing.
Note: a version of this review originally appeared on Jul 19, 2016