Cast: Kika Magalhaes, Paul Nazak, Will Brill, Diana Agostini, Clara Wong, Flora Diaz, Olivia Bond
Director: Nicolas Pesce
Running time: 1 hour 16 minutes
by Jericho Cerrona
There has been a rather unfortunate increase in the self-professed "art house indie horror movie"; wherein genre elements are flattened or done away with altogether in lieu of a slow-burn kind of minimalism. Sometimes, this tactic works, as with Robert Egger's atmospheric The Witch, but most of the time, we get droning bores like last year's Goodnight Mommy; pictures luxuriating in their own arty affectations without ever giving audiences a reason to be invested. These types of pictures are often overpraised by critics, who see them as an intelligent alternative to the glut of jump-scare tactics found in most mainstream fare. Nicolas Pesce's debut feature The Eyes of My Mother joins the ranks of mood-based horror. and will likely be hailed as just this sort of alternative, when instead, it should be seen for what it is; 76 minutes of self-conscious Gothic nonsense masquerading as a disturbing character study. A study of whom or what, you may ask? Well, nothing really, as it turns out. The Eyes of My Mother is a film so carefully arranged and crafted that it practically screams "calling card" for its young writer-director, while completely ignoring the audience in the process.
Making a very specific film with little regards for how it will be received is not really the issue here. Great art does not need to consider the audience or cultural demands, but there's a fine line between artistic pretension and genuine expression, and The Eyes of My Mother seems to exist inside a vacuum of its own contrived artistry rather than as an extension of theme, character, or psychological resonance. The threadbare story here concerns a young woman named Francisca (Kika Magalhaes), whom we see during the film's early moments suffering an atrocious tragedy when her mother (Diana Agostini) is brutally beaten to death by a wandering salesman (Will Brill). Francisca lives with her father (Paul Nazak) inside their remote farm house, one which feels ripped from some Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1950s America where modern concerns are nonexistent. The mother's attacker is kept alive locked away in chains, with eyes and tongue removed, and what follows is a ponderous exercise in both character and audience derision in which all manner of disturbing images are presented for no other reason than because an aesthetic dictates it. There's nothing here in the way of human behavior, emotional depth, or true terror; since the most successfully unnerving actions must have an understandable behavioral component to them to truly resonate, no matter how outlandish or genre-specific.
The most aggravating thing about The Eyes of My Mother is that critics will likely fawn over the wannabe Michael Haneke-cribbed solemnity and contrived black-and-white cinematography on display here as some kind of bold artistic statement. Ultimately, this is an aggressively ugly and sadistic experience without the psychological complexity that would give weight to any of Francisca's nonsensical actions. With every shot perfectly framed and every composition meticulously planned out, Pesce has forgotten to place an actual movie in between the gloomy atmosphere and Freudian torture porn theatrics.