There's been a noticeable consistency in the genre work I’ve seen this year, all of which has intrigued me: filmmakers and artists are really laying bare some of their most vulnerable anxieties about their own internal lives. I am speaking of the moments of solitude when the silence is deafened by our own thoughts; and does the actuality of being alone for any period of time only exacerbate a fear of solitude indefinitely, even when we are at times surrounded by others? In films like Safe Neighborhood and even The Invitation, there are inklings of that fear played out in multiple, subtle ways: characters make disturbing and seemingly dire attempts to feed their instinct for belonging, to be physically and emotionally connected to someone. Horror takes this necessity and shows the darker, most gruesome lengths of this process within the human condition. And that is at the core of Nicholas Pesce’s 2016 debut silent terror, The Eyes Of My Mother.
The farmland, countryside-life Francisca (played by both Olivia Bond as a child and Kika Magalhaes as an adult) enjoys with her mother and father is forever tainted by the unfortunate circumstances of a quasi-home invasion which cleverly usurps audience expectations of how the invaded react. Divided into three sections, The Eyes Of My Mother works well as a narrative about how a detached Francisca ironically masters becoming someone who is sympathetically (and terrifyingly) incapable of dealing with loneliness. The strength of this film is Pesce’s ability to paint a gentile, chaotic character study built upon very serene and minimal choices for setting. The use of black and white for the film’s runtime is bathed in a soft light that illuminates the noiseless, open terrain. The Eyes Of My Mother is pleasant as a sequence of beautiful portraits, but its narrative detail is an eternity of dread and a thirst for body horror which consumes Francisca. The term "nail-biter" becomes appropriate with each awkward encounter she has with the outside world.
Magalhaes’ performance as the film's sole character is additionally mesmerizing, and even manages to carry the film. While her demonstrative delivery seems one-note throughout, Francisca successfully experiences a wide array of physical and emotional points that - even while watching what I know is a horror film - I wanted desperately to see something akin to a family-friendly, safe ending. Francisca’s behavior is unpredictable, but she's got clear motives, all of which works in concert to further complicate audience expectations of what might become of someone whose fragility is her strongest weapon. Watching someone so chillingly robotic perform twisted surgeries (as if the human form is without physical and psychological pain) is something that’ll always get under my skin. Francisca’s narcissistic approach sees gruesome results for those unfortunate enough to cross her path.
The Eyes Of My Mother ends the way it begins, which works to keep the film inarguably perfect in tone and pacing. In all, the film is an uneasy watch, but one I didn’t peel my own eyes away from for a second. It is an extremely moving film, and brutally exposes the damage we as people can easily inflict upon one another. As a home truth that we are susceptible to any kind of behavior under a particular circumstance, The Eyes Of My Mother masterfully unpacks our painful world while remembering our humanity.