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The Eyes of the Mother review: a stylized low-key horror feast
March 21, 2017
The debut feature from director Nicolas Pesce is a stylized low-key horror feast that manages to suggest volumes by showing very little on screen. An occasionally gory, snail-paced, psychological-suspense thriller, despite some taxing moments The Eyes of the Mother makes for an interesting watch with a unique perspective.
Kika Magalhaes’s Francisca is an uncharacteristic murderer, whose means of connecting to other people is killing or imprisoning them. The film’s opening gambit shows her mother (Diana Agostini), a trained surgeon, teaching Francisca how to dissect a cow. Specifically how to remove their eyes. When a random stranger appears at their country ranch, brutally murdering Francisca’s mother, her father intervenes. Francisca, however, isn’t distraught instead she appears more quietly perplexed, and takes in the murderer as her captive pet. Nursing him while keeping him chained up in her father’s barn, she puts her surgical skills to practice by gouging out his eyes.
Fast forward to Francisca as a 20-something, both her father and her captive have now passed away, but her insatiable appetite to kill remains. After a series of almost dialogue-free murders, Francisca kidnaps a mother and her child, then having rendered the mother blind, keeps her captive and raises the baby boy as her own.
Shot in black and white with a slow, contemplative tone and subdued villainess, obvious comparisons can be made to Ana Lily Amirpour 2014’s ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’, not just for the film noir quality but also for the insular nature of the female lead. Magalhaes portrays the introverted Francisca with great compassion; her Francisca is unapologetic, completely unemotional and very practical about her killings and abductions. She is so far removed from the conventional stereotype of a killer that, in fact, her blasé behavior normalizes the gruesome proceedings making the horror/ gore effect of the film less prevalent, and instead adding a certain voyeuristic quality.
The gouging out of eyes never happens on screen but we assuredly see the aftermath: exaggerated pus-filled wounds, the trauma that comes with the realisation of blindness. Pesce paints a beautiful picture of a deeply troubling subject matter, insinuating violence rather than showing it. However, the slow pace and the stagnant focus on Francisca is simultaneously The Eye’s of the Mother’s strongest and weakest point. The plot never really develops from apart from when the killings and kidnappings reach a crescendo, but even then Francisca’s matter-of-factness doesn’t instil any jarring emotion or great suspense in the viewer. Her lack of empathy, is reflected in the viewers lack of emotional reaction as events unfold.
Overall a stylish, arthouse thriller with a great female lead in Kika Magalhaes’s absurd and predatory Francisca, The Eyes of the Mother, despite a sometimes slow and predictable pace is nonetheless an impressive debut.
Words by Daniel Theophanous