THE FILM 4.5/5
“Why would I kill you? You’re the only friend I have.”
THE EYES OF MY MOTHER takes place in a family’s secluded farmhouse, where a mother, formerly a surgeon in Portugal, teaches her daughter, Francisca, to understand anatomy and be unfazed by death. However, one afternoon, a mysterious visitor horrifyingly shatters the idyll of Francisca’s family life, deeply traumatizing the young girl, but also awakening some unique curiosities.
Horror films like The Eyes of My Mother are becoming increasingly rare. Putting aside the understanding that forays into the genre hardly ever result in what one could call a “good” film, the experience offered by The Eyes of My Mother is one that not only proves an exception to that rule, but that such a grisly story with equally grisly imagery can come across so, well…beautiful. But that’s what The Eyes of My Mother is: beautiful. It’s a beautifully told and beautiful looking film about a psychopathic (and beautiful) girl named Francisca whose hold on reality and humanity is so slight that she will kill you – but she’ll do so with no malice in her heart whatsoever. She’ll do it because, as a product of her upbringing and isolated (and anonymous) environment, along with one particularly gruesome event, she simply doesn’t know any better.
This, along with its striking black and white photography, is what makesThe Eyes of My Mother so compelling: that it’s a study about one of two things: a girl born with no emotional capabilities whatsoever, or a girl raised under loveless parents, with no access to friends or other people, weaned on the slaughtering of livestock and detached stories from her mother’s days as a surgeon. If the former is accurate, then The Eyes of My Mother treads familiar ground while doing so in a shamelessly gorgeous and artistic way. However, if the latter is accurate, then it’s an intensely (additionally) disturbing allegory for nature vs. nurture – about what results when the very young are curbed from the world, raised only by people who seem to share no love between them. The young grow up hearing stories about eyes being removed, dissected; examples of this are performed on a decapitated cow’s head resting on the kitchen table. When this is all the young know, this is what the young will become, but they’ll embrace what they know and act it out with the brain of the young that’s not fully formed.
This is telling when Francisca makes the rare descent into town, setting he sights on a local dive bar. Later on she arrives back home…with a guest – an attractive Asian girl the same age as herself. But it’s not because Francisca has lived as a closeted lesbian herself. It’s because she likely became receptive to the first person in the bar who showed her attention and who wanted to go home with her. Francisca is beyond sexuality; she understands its mechanics, but not the desires or the emotional grapplings that normally go along with it. She’s lived her life masquerading as a human being and doing what humans do, but without the very thing that makes a human being: empathy.
The before-mentioned particularly gruesome event which takes place early in her life certainly has its place in curating what kind of adult Francisca grows into, for sure, but there’s a lack of emotional detachment that thrives in that environment. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say Francisca’s lack of empathy isn’t an isolated reaction and it doesn’t make her unique. Said event is the catalyst for the thing that turns her into a monster, but her lifestyle before, during, and following that event are what turned of her ability to feel in the first place.
Films come along that aren’t for everyone — sometimes for very few. The Eyes of My Mother is definitely in that camp. Largely without dialogue, without a stitch of color, and with an increasingly feeling of bleakness and frustration, The Eyes of My Mother almost dares you to keep with it – to see if the conflicted feelings you have as you watch Francisca, who is entirely unaware of the wrongness of her actions as she commits the kinds of atrocities that exist only in nightmares, ever threaten to bubble over until you turn against her. If you ever do.
THE PICTURE 4.5/5
Black and white doesn’t have to mean drab and lifeless. Likewise, The Eyes of My Mother might be the most attractively lensed black and white film since Schindler’s List. There’s a certain Gothic element to how certain scenes of light are presented, with sunlight streaming in through the slats of barn walls or windows. Textures boast very good definition and clarity. Francisca’s surroundings are every bit as bleak and grey as they look, which has been faithfully replicated by this high-def presentation.
THE SOUND 4/5
The Eyes of My Mother doesn’t rely heavily on dialogue — not even during the first act when there are multiple characters sharing the screen. But once Francisca becomes the lone character, the disquieting silence of her farmhouse and surrounding farmland begins to creep in. What dialogue there is sounds fine with no dropouts or moments of incoherence. Musical score by Ariel Loh is also slight, just beneath the surface, but it also replicates well in the audio presentation.
THE SUPPLEMENTS 2/5
The only supplement of note is a conversation with the film’s director, who lists his inspirations for and his intent behind The Eyes of My Mother. It’s somewhat brief but contains some good information.
The complete list of special features is as follows:
- Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery
- Interview with Director Nicholas Pesce (14 minutes)
- Theatrical Trailer
If you were one of those folks who became swept up in the hype of The Witch but ultimately hated it, then run, screaming, from The Eyes of My Mother. Similar to that more well known genre piece, The Eyes of Mother Mother subsists on a purposely calm pace, mixing in much quiet in between scenes of grisliness and discomfort. And like The Witch, there’s much terror to be found if you know where to look. Fans of old school horror who appreciated the early works of Roman Polanski and Mario Bava, however, will find a lot to enjoy. Highly recommended.
Magnolia Pictures is the theatrical and home entertainment distribution arm of the Wagner/Cuban Companies, a vertically-integrated group of media properties co-owned by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban that also includes the Landmark Theatres chain and AXS TV.