The Eyes of My Mother review: a perfectly ghoulish slice of American gothic

The debut feature from director Nicolas Pesce is a visceral, horrible and beautiful reviention of arthouse

Creeping dread: Olivia Bond and Diana Agostini in The Eyes of My Mother. Photograph: Borderline Film

Film Title: The Eyes of My Mother

Director: Nicolas Pesce

Starring: Kika Magalhães, Olivia Bond, Diana Agostini, Paul Nazak, Will Brill

Genre: Horror

Running Time: 76 min

Fri, Mar 24, 2017, 10:54

   

Francisca (Olivia Bond and later Kika Magalhães) grows up on an isolated cattle farm that might have once been painted by Edward Hopper. As a hobby, her Portuguese mother (Diana Agostini), a former surgeon, practises dissection on the cows and tells ominous tales concerning St Francis of Assisi. The family patriarch (Paul Nazak) is the silent type.

One day, an odd stranger called Charlie (Will Brill) insinuates his way into the homestead. The brutal crime he commits heralds a cycle of graphic, violent acts that come to define this discombobulating American gothic.

Working with cinematographer Zach Kuperstein, video director Nicolas Pesce has fashioned a horrible, beautiful thing: an art-horror, pitched, atmospherically, somewhere between Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and Charles Laughton’s The Night of the Hunter.

Striking monochrome tableaux, minimal dialogue, empty rooms, Ariel Loh’s sinister, droning score, and a freakily intense central performance from Portuguese actor, Kika Magalhães, create a sensation of creeping dread that keeps pace with flinch-making nightmarish spectacle. Speaking in a mix of Portuguese and English, and moving almost robotically, Magalhães conveys the darkest kind of disassociation.

Strange truncations and ill-defined motivations reduce the uneasy viewer to a fugue state and leave spaces to imagine much worse things, if indeed things can be much worse than what we do see.  

One has to hope that The Eyes of My Mother’s generic underpinnings and gruesome leanings won’t alienate the arthouse crowd, and equally, that the film’s stately pacing and aesthetic rigour won’t deter horror enthusiasts. The running time – or lack thereof – is a problem, but this otherwise perfectly ghoulish exercise marks Nicolas Pesce and his crew as talents to keep track of.