This review originally ran as part of our Fantastic Fest 2016 coverage
PLOT: A young woman living on a farm by herself goes to extreme and frightening lengths to ensure she's not alone for long.
REVIEW: If you still think you can't be disturbed by a horror movie, take a look at THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, the starkly beautiful and grotesque debut feature from Nicolas Pesce. Overflowing with haunting images and nightmarish ideas, it's a killer debut indeed, one that is sure to become a favorite for the genre crowd.
Imagine if Ed Gein were a young and gorgeous Portuguese woman and you might get a hint of the startling figure at the center of this refreshingly simple tale. At a young age, Francisca is witness to the horrifying murder of her mother by a deranged stranger who happens upon the family's isolated farmhouse. That's only the beginning of the horror, however. To reveal too much would be a disservice to you; EYES is a movie best walked into knowing nothing about. Then you can allow its subtle ghoulishness drop over you like a shroud.
But what I can tell you is that Francisca quickly reveals herself - either via being witness to her mother's demise or perhaps thanks to seeds already planted before that - to be an abnormal psychotic with some serious dependency issues (among others). Her placid, luminous exterior belies an intensely damaged soul, and as we watch her grow into a young woman, her need for companionship will compel her to do some very grisly things. What's fascinating is that the character is both alluring and repulsive. You're mortified by what she does but, in a lurid way, you understand that she's been damaged for a long time, perhaps since even Day One. If our personalities are formed by our environments when we're children, then Francisca's maturation into a monster isn't terribly surprising, since it's clear her childhood was not exactly a normal one (Pesce only hints at what must have gone on with her, however).
Pesce crafts a aura of somber elegance from the first frames and holds on this eerie atmosphere for the entirety of the movie's brief 75 minute runtime (a perfect length for this film; you likely wouldn't want to spend much more time with Francisca). Exquisitely photographed in black and white by Zach Kuperstein, the disturbing nature of Francisca's actions is actually heightened by how lovely the film looks. It's slowly paced but never lags; your eyes and ears drawn to every small detail.
And when it's creepy, it swings for the fences. One sequence toward the end of the film had me completely uncomfortable, wanting to look away but unable to. Good luck trying to shake off some of the things you see here. Like most of the best horror films, EYES OF MY MOTHER isn't overly gory, but it does boast a few images startling enough to chill your bones.
At the center of the film is Kika Magalhaes, who plays Francisca with the air of an unassuming child. As should be the case, Magalhaes gives a quiet performance, never once hinting at the deadly creature that lurks within Francisca. The stillness of her portrayal is what really captivated me, that wide-eyed stare and vague hint of a smile. That pretty face is the scariest visage we've had in horror in a while.