(This review is brought to you by the hope that you will explore our submissions call for our 2017 Body Horror Anthology. And on the topic of body horror, check out our Quick History of Body Horror Cinema article.)
Greetings from Ulthar,
Arthouse horror films have brought us some of the most memorable pieces of terror ever to grace the screen. From The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) to micro budget films like Insidious (2010), often the combination of a small budget and a determined film crew can produce legendary works. It is the subtleties that Indie horror films carry that make them so effective to audiences. Without the ability to present state-of-the-art special effects and grand set pieces, the writers, directors, and cast have to rely on talent and effort to craft their visions. The Eyes of My Mother (2016) accomplishes these challenges and more. We will warn you now, this film is unsettling at its core and truly prolific in its ability to portray insanity in a quiet and subdued scope.
IMDB Plot Description:
A young, lonely woman is consumed by her deepest and darkest desires after tragedy strikes her quiet country life.
Starring: Kika Magalhães, Will Brill, and Olivia Bond
Written by: Nicolas Pesce
Directed by: Nicolas Pesce
The Eyes of My Mother homes in on the very topics that seem to fascinate moviegoers with serial killers. In the style of Silence of the Lambs (1991), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Psycho (1960), the film delves deeply into the life and background of its central antagonist, Francisca. The most gripping facet of the film is the level of personal exploration we see with our main character. In turn, this is also what makes it so hard to watch. In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter was the antagonist, narrating his story from the inside of a jail cell. In The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, the character called Leatherface was shown only sparingly at first, but eventually evolved into a terrifying monster that chased our protagonists. In Psycho, we saw a lot of Norman Bates throughout the film, but only ever barely grasped what made him into the killer that he was in the film. In contrast, The Eyes of My Mother takes us through the chilling and unnerving backstory of Francisca–in a way that we have rarely seen in a film. This horrendous adventure is the key point that makes The Eyes of My Mother a looming classic in the horror genre. We forgot to mention that both explicit torture and implied cannibalism throughout the film places it firmly in the category of body horror. Don’t think that we forgot this was a body horror review, now.
On Structure: The film is told in three parts: I. Mother, II. Father, III. Family. There is a 10-15 year difference between each chapter, highlighting the grotesque evolution of Francisca. Each part delves deeper into her psyche, and in a way, we get to grow with our antihero. We know. “Antihero?? But she’s a serial killer!” We will dive more into that in the On Writing section. The structure of the film is also minutely non-linear but, for the most part, we see the traumas and personality of Francisca unfold chronologically throughout her life. The decision to incorporate chapters into the film had an impact of its own, providing us with titles that define the most important moments in her life. As we will mention more throughout the review, The Eyes of My Mother is exactly what it needs to be. Nothing more, and nothing less. This is perhaps why the film is so effective. The crisp, calculated restraint in every shot consistently epitomizes what is gravely important to the story at that given moment.
On Writing: Perhaps the greatest surprise of The Eyes of My Mother is the fact that the script finds ways to make you feel compassionate for a heartless, terrifying monster in Francisca. The personal depth that is examined in her character brings a human aspect to the serial killer genre that is rarely, if ever, explored. Sympathy is something that one would never expect to have for the killer in a film such as this, which makes the movie that much more gripping and powerful. Francisca is, in every way, an antihero. The fact that audiences will catch themselves rooting for her to remain unharmed is something that is truly haunting. The dialogue in this film helps the subtlety of these mentioned observations. As with everything else in the film, the script of The Eyes of My Mother does exactly what it needs to. Nothing more. Nothing less. The dialogue is short, and often very quick, but it adds to the encompassing loneliness that filters throughout the course of Francisca’s sad life. The choice of timelines, narrative structure, and progression culminate into a wonderfully paced cinematic journey.
On Cinematography: The beauty of seclusion is rarely illustrated as well as it is in The Eyes of My Mother. A black-and-white canvas fosters a depth that would be lost if the film were in color, perfecting its inherently chilling, absorbing nature. Quiet, long-panning shots of Francisca’s home that frequently occur during the movie’s run time remind the audience of her isolation. Darkness is used throughout the film in a chilling effect, meticulously giving audiences enough light to signal what they should be focusing on in the scene, and rarely showing more. A lack of musical score also contributes to the atmosphere of loneliness, creating a dome of reality that only Francisca lives in. The isolation makes her internal confusion and strange beliefs all the more resounding, offering a believable situation for her character. The gore, and trust us, there is a good bit, is always very patient and tasteful. Each shot bears a realistic quality that makes it difficult to not be submerged in the gruesome acts on screen. The slow, methodical pace of the violence and mutilation is honestly what makes it so effective, causing mere minutes of film to be burned into our psyche for years to come.
On Effects: It was a bit difficult to decide whether or not this film could constitute as body horror. But after several replays, it became evident that the film takes body horror and flips it into a psychological realm. The implied cannibalism, Francisca’s fascination with “what the inside of the body looks like,” the crisp sawing and hacking sounds, the surgically precise body mutilations, the torture, the preserving of bodies (and body parts); it all simmers into a cocktail of artfully executed body horror cinema. The gore is never paraded in the audience’s face, preferring instead to maintain a Texas Chain Saw Massacre style of gruesomeness. If you love horror films, especially body horror, you will find this film’s new direction deeply satisfying.
The Eyes of My Mother holds precedence over many modern horror films, providing audiences with a fresh–albeit disturbing–take on the serial killer genre. Francisca is not only a character that we can be terrified by, but an antihero that we reluctantly care about. The film is reserved in all of the right ways, never gratuitous and always nail-biting with tension. The Eyes of My Mother is a modern masterpiece, which reinvigorates the old narratives of horror, primarily in the vein of Psycho and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. The reserved nature of the film is what makes its effect so long-lasting and the small amount of dialogue couples perfectly with the beautiful, isolated cinematography to provide audiences with a deeply haunting atmosphere. Francisca will undoubtedly become one of horror’s most terrifying and disturbing characters, and we are honored to include her film in our Body Horror review series.
RATING: 5/5 STARS
Don’t forget to visit our submissions page for our Body Horror Anthology. And if you wanted to learn more about body horror, check out our Body Horror Cinema article. This is the second part in a series, celebrating body horror as we lead up to our anthology in November.
Thank you so much for stopping by. Do you agree with this review? Disagree? Any suggestions or corrections? Please let us know, we’d love to hear your thoughts.