In Love and Death
It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure an image of a time where writer/director Nicolas Pesce conceived The Eyes of My Mother as a silent film. The thought comes not only from the black and white scheme, but the eschewing of much dialogue for a more visually focused film. Makes sense for a character so focused on the ocular. But as it turns out, your imagination, not your eyes, is where much of the most horrifying images manifest in this visual feast of a movie.
Francisca is the daughter of an ocular surgeon, who meets her death at the hands of a home invader. With a dead mother and a catatonic father, Francisca is in charge of her own life from here on out. It’s an arresting opening, made all the more haunting when Francisca has no qualms about torturing her mother’s murderer for years on end using the surgical skills she has been taught. It paints the portrait of a serial killer, but evokes a longing for connection and family. The result often feels somewhere between William Faulkner and Hannibal Lector.
Visually, The Eyes of My Mother is a spectacle. It is not just the color scheme — the lack of color often feels like a gimmick, although it does make some of the gorier scenes easier to stomach — but the way the film scares. The most violent acts occur just slightly offscreen, out of range of what the camera is willing to show. The best scenes are completely contingent on getting that zoom just right. And The Eyes of My Mother works so well because it nearly always nails those shots. Nearly sixty years after Psycho, the fact still remains that our imaginations are far more horrific than what an effects department can conjure. For a debut feature, the direction is intentional and the cinematography utilizes and understands what makes good horror frightening.
The dialogue ranges from minimalistic to nonexistent. It’s a smart move for a short, low budget debut. Pesce seems to be aware of where his strengths lie. Still, the ending feels tacked on and odd tonally. The last five minutes drive home the drama, but don’t play to the film’s strengths visually or thematically. Structurally, The Eyes of My Mother shares a strange resemblance to Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight. Split up into three titled acts, each one representing a jump in time.
The Eyes of My Mother is the story of a serial killer, but it is also the story of a woman. A woman who has lost her family, and attempts to start a new one. It is what happens when nurture wins out over nature, but that nurture was not so nurturing in the first place. She does whatever it takes, without considering the consequences of anyone involved. Because that’s not how she was raised.
The Eyes of My Mother is released in theaters nationwide on December 2nd.