When a traumatic event occurs during Francisca’s childhood, she’s left alone with her detached father and the aftermath leaves her developmentally stunted as a human being. Unable to differentiate between pain, love, or death, Francisca is determined to find love and friendship in the world. Her cool detachment from reality often leads to lethal consequences.
Nicolas Pesce makes his directorial debut with this visually striking character study. Shot in black and white, and influenced by ‘60s and ‘70s classic horror, Pesce tells Francisca’s story over three chapters. Beginning with the traumatic event that profoundly impacts Francisca’s psyche, the film skips ahead in time with Francisca fully matured. It’s at this point that Pesce toys with his audience, alternating between eliciting sympathy out of the viewer for the sweet Francisca with her loneliness and utter revulsion. Pesce effectively makes us sympathize with a stone cold killer right before shocking us with her horrendous acts.
Yet, surprisingly, most of the film’s violence is off-screen or implied. When Francisca catches up to a victim, we hear the gross squishy noises of a knife repeatedly tearing into flesh, but we never actually see the act, only Francisca’s detached, almost peaceful expression as she’s committing the deed. In his very self-assured feature debut, Pesca trusts the viewer’s imagination to bring the horror and it’s surprisingly very effective. That’s not to say that all of the horror is off-screen; if you have issues with eye or fingernail trauma then be prepared for a few scenes to make you wince.
As Francisca, Kika Magalhaes delivers a chilling performance. Her quiet, elegant portrayal can give way to a terrifying sociopathic nature in a flash, making you horrified that you wanted to give her character a hug just moments before she dispatches a cruel fate. The constant fluctuations in her temperament creates a very unnerving tension. Will Brill as Charlie, however, wins the prize for hair raising creepiness. Whereas Francisca blurs the line of friend or foe, Charlie is just pure skin-crawler.
The most impressive aspect of Pesce’s debut remains the visual component, though. Perhaps utilizing his previous experience working on music videos, Pesce delivers the most stunning visual composition in recent memory. The way he frames his shots creates breathtaking, haunting imagery. From the overhead shot of Francisca bathing her father to a scene of terror filmed above from a second floor window, the film is comprised of pure artistry.
It’s a quiet, understated film that works to keep its audience uncomfortable and engages while it delves into the psyche of a damaged mind. It dares you to sympathize with a monster and then destroys you when you do. Pesce creates an atmospheric, beautifully haunting film that cleverly creates most of the horror by allowing the viewer to do most of the heavy lifting. It’s a bold choice that pays off. The Eyes of My Mother creates a deep sense of unease in the pit of your stomach, and that feeling lingers long after the credits roll.
The Eyes of My Mother will be arriving in theaters on VOD on December 2, 2016.
The Eyes of My Mother [FF Review]