When my good friend (and director of Winter At Westbeth) suggested to my partner and I that we come along with him and his lovely partner to see The Eyes of My Mother (2016, dir. Nicolas Pesce) whilst we were at the Sydney Film Festival last weekend, I accepted the offer immediately without reading anything about the film. After all, the title sounded more than inviting, and felt very mysterious. I am so glad I didn’t read anything about it before seeing this film – I was shocked, kind of disgusted, but most of all, in awe. The film’s (brief) synopsis is as follows:
A young, lonely woman is consumed by her deepest and darkest desires after tragedy strikes her quiet country life. (source)
I won’t reveal anything about the story in this (quick) review. To tell you more about the story would completely spoil the impact of its horror. But I will say that the story develops and escalates in a natural and believable manner, even though the film’s contents feel like something out of your absolute worst nightmare. The film speaks to the impact of severe childhood trauma on a developing mind and view of the world, where a young woman’s sense of family and belonging is shattered and sought to be repaired in the only way she knows how. This film has been described elsewhere as a ‘waking nightmare’, and I couldn’t agree more. The sense of horror and suspense is pervasive and almost overwhelming, and some of the more gory moments had me covering my face and turning away.
The Eyes of My Mother is filled with great performances, but none more great than that of Kika Magalhaes as main character Francisca. Magalhaes’ performance is so nuanced and subtle, even during her most brutal moments. What I found to be the most impeccable elements of the film were its striking direction by Nicolas Pesce, and cinematography by first-timer Zach Kuperstein. Shot entirely in black and white, showing us none of the colourful detail of the blood and gore that we bear witness to, the impact of the horror on screen is in no way lessened. In fact, as a result of the calm, thoughtful, and fearless direction, what we are subject to almost feels sensuous, like a dance of disturbing imagery. It also renders the time and place of the film slightly ambiguous, further escalating the film’s sense of mystery. It’s also worth nothing that this film scares the crap out of you without one single jump-scare – which is no mean feat.
Some moments of The Eyes of My Mother feel gratuitous, but at the same time, it never feels overdone. The Eyes of My Mother is the best horror film I’ve seen in recent times – and as someone who is highly critical of horror films in general, this is high praise. When watching this, you might feel a bit sick, you might squirm in your seat, and you might want to cover your face like I did. But this is one film that you’ll want to absorb as much as possible, as much as its gore and violence repels you. When The Eyes of My Mother gets a cinema release outside of the festival circuit, I would highly recommend seeking it out to view in a dark cinema, where you can be consumed by its brilliance.