American Gothic

The Eyes of My Mother

by Hope Madden

The Eyes of My Mother will remind you of many other films, and yet there truly is no film quite like this one.

First time feature writer/director Nicolas Pesce, with a hell of an assist from cinematographer Zach Kuperstein, casts an eerie spell of lonesome bucolic horror.

Shot in ideal-for-the-project black and white, an Act 1 event could come from any number of horror films. A mother looks out her window to see her young daughter, playing alone in the front lawn, talking with a stranger. There is something clearly wrong with the stranger, and things take a bad turn. But for Pesce, this simple, well-worn set-up offers endless unexplored possibilities. Because this bad man doesn’t realize that the isolated farm family he’s come to harm is very comfortable with dissection.

His film is told in three parts. Part 1, with the stranger, sees the young Francisca (Olivia Bond) finding her role in her family. It changes after the stranger’s visit.

Parts 2 and 3 catch up with the family quite a few years later. The now-grown Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) takes some extreme measures to end her loneliness.

There is much power in dropping an audience into a lived-in world – the less we know, the better. Pesce understands this in the same way Tobe Hooper did with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and though The Eyes of My Mother lacks the cynicism, satire and power tools of Hooper’s farmhouse classic, it treads some similar ground.

Where Eyes differs most dramatically from other films is in its restraint. The action is mostly off-screen, leaving us with the sounds of horror and the quiet clean-up of its aftermath to tell us more than we really want to know.

As retrained as it is, The Eyes of My Mother hardly lacks in sensual experience. Stunning, gorgeously lit frames are matched with garish sound editing.

Kuperstein’s cinematography is sometimes almost Malick-like. Pesce focuses that camera on nearly silent moments full of traumatic images. He creates dissonance between the peaceful, idyllic scenes and the pinpoint imagery, the horrifying sounds.

The quiet amplifies Francisca’s isolation. The sounds amplify something else entirely.

Though Eyes of My Mother is reminiscent of several Seventies horrors, its muted telling exposes a patience rarely found in the genre. Pesce repays you for your patience.


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