A deeply off-putting film in the best possible way, this searing directorial debut from 26-year-old Nicolas Pesce is a highly distinct horror that reinvents classic tropes with violent vigour and psychological complexity.
Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) grew up in a rural farmhouse with her loving parents, but a violent incident in her youth has had a deeply profound effect on her development into adulthood, and when we catch up with her years later, her morbid fascination grows to become something much less benign.
That synopsis is intentionally vague largely because this is a film so chock full of surprises and expectation-defying twists that it’d be majorly unprofessional to clue you in any further than that. Rest assured, this is a savagely, ferociously original film even though it works from a fairly familiar, arguably Texas Chainsaw-inspired premise.
It’s an art-house horror flick that doesn’t skimp out on the gore nor the long, airy takes, and is as such one of the most peculiar entries from either camp in recent memory. Unsettling from its creepy set-up through to its more melancholic moments, Pesce takes the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions, from terror, to unexpected, even absurd amusement and genuine sadness.
And what a startlingly brilliant audio-visual package, especially for a first feature; cinematographer Zach Kuperstein pretty much makes an overnight name for himself here in his first feature lensing gig, while Pesce edits his own movie with note-perfect timing, and Ariel Loh’s score vacillates between drones, tender piano and even some humming jazz synths.
Still, the secret weapon here is Magalhaes, a strikingly beautiful woman who does a remarkable job gear-shifting the film’s tone, evoking both sympathy and horror, often at the very same time. Some audiences will naturally be keen to dig deep into the psychology of Francisca, and Pesce and Magalhaes have generously left plenty to dissect.
With an absurdly entertaining level of unpredictability and surprisingly epic scope, The Eyes of My Mother is one of the most memorable and distinguished horror films of the last few years. Some might say it’s just the usual kidnap, torture porn revenge flick dressed up with an artful wrapper, but the sheer quality of craft and meticulous detail from top to bottom makes that feel rather reductive and dismissive of all the talents involved.
The Eyes of My Mother is on limited US release from November 18th