The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Here is a horror film that abstains from showing violence but it is horrifying all the same. Instead, it relies on images before and after a particular action is taken—for instance, an individual with a weapon approaching a cowering target, a pool of blood being wiped off the floor, a cow’s head sitting on the kitchen table. By excising the act of violence completely, the picture leaves plenty to the imagination. In fact, it gives the viewer the opportunity to imagine something worse than what had actually occurred. Thus, in a way, an argument can be made that this picture uses horror films we’ve seen before to its advantage.
Equipped with intelligent writing and assured direction by Nicolas Pesce, “The Eyes of My Mother,” beautifully photographed in black-and-white, tells the story of a young girl named Francisca (Olivia Bond) who witnessed the murder of her mother in their farmhouse. (Diana Agostini who plays the mother gives a magnetic performance despite her limited time on screen.) Unspooling over several decades, we observe how Francisca’s crippling loneliness, combined with the fact that neither of her parents has taught her that moving on is an essential part of life, shaped a void of a person, completely detached from what is right and what is wrong. And because she has a severely limited moral compass, if she had any at all, it makes the character more fascinating—and terrifying. To Francisca, another human being is equivalent to the cattle she must care for a time… then having to kill it.
Notice how silence is utilized as an overwhelming presence in the farmhouse. There is no score serving as a signal to what we should expect or how we should feel. There is no soundtrack that booms suddenly before or after a violent clash. Instead, sounds like the rustling of the leaves, drawers beings opened, a wheelbarrow being dragged through the woods are amplified. Meanwhile, when characters speak, it sounds as though their voices are just a bit muffled—contrast to the sharp, defined sounds of objects making contact on surfaces. Is this how it is like to live inside Francisca’s body? Is this how she processes the world around her? Or is it that the writer-director wishes to keep us off-balance, a way to keep us on our toes for the next plot development?
Kika Magalhães plays adult Francisca with such an alarming intensity, I could not keep my eyes off her. I admired how she interprets the character. For example, notice how Magalhães makes the decision to make Francisca move slowly when by herself. When the character is sitting in the kitchen with a plate of food in front of her, there is a lack of pleasure in Francisca’s interaction with her meal; there is no energy in the way she maneuvers the utensils; there is, however, a blankness, a far away look, in her eyes. Her skeletal frame moves about the house but her spirit, it seems, had been buried, rotten away alongside her mother’s mutilated corpse.
Austere and disturbing, “The Eyes of My Mother” commands an unrelenting vision and precise execution. So many modern horror films aspire to be messy, loud, gratuitous—especially when violence is employed. This picture takes on the opposite approach: it is clinical, disquieting, every object in each room has its rightful place, there is a detachment amongst all human interactions. It is so grounded in reality that there comes a point where we remind ourselves that somewhere out there, especially in the isolated areas of the country, is a Francisca, waiting.