There are many types of horrors: psychological thrillers, slashers, ghost stories, religious reapings, body horrors, etc. Typically, most horror films are content to stick to one of these sub-genres and torture it for all its worth to maximize audience reaction and emotion. Unfortunately, when it comes to horror, Hollywood has decided to default on films which are all about jump scares, those moronic moments which are signaled by nothing more than loud noises (which makes one want to wear ear plugs), rather than heeding patience with regards to atmosphere and narrative. Personally, I'm open to any kind of horror film, yet the ability to scare and/or disturb me is extremely difficult; perhaps I've seen it all, but some of the most effective horrors I've seen are more about what we don't see, the ones that prick at my imagination. Some of the absolute best horror films I've seen in recent years include Robert Eggers' The VVitch, Jennifer Kent's The Babadook, and David Robert Mitchell's It Follows. In all of these cases, these freshman filmmakers had expertly crafted original visions (writing their own screenplays, to boot) which were so far away from the generic nature of Hollywood horrors, yet still dividing audiences based on the fact they were challenging and unorthodox.
One more horror that I must add to that hallowed group is writer-director Nicolas Pesce's The Eyes of My Mother although, unlike those aforementioned masterpieces, this film's extremely quiet release last year by Magnetic Releasing has made it practically invisible, even in horror circles. And its limited reception has been as insanely polarizing, to say the least. Avoiding spoilers like the plague, I will only say the film is told from the point-of-view of Francisca, a Portuguese immigrant who lives on an isolated farm in the country with her parents. Her mother used to be surgeon and she passes along to her daughter the sciences of anatomy and preservation. Francisca's worldview is soon significantly altered by the arrival of a drifter named Charlie, who turns out to be a serial killer. That's all I will reveal, yet there are two aspects of The Eyes of My Mother which must be emphasized as warnings for the viewer: the film is only 76 minutes long and it's filmed in black-and-white. This monochrome brevity is what makes The Eyes of My Mother stand out stylistically from anything else out there when it comes to horror, and it turns out to be a very wise choices on the part of Pesce (who also edited) and director of photography Zach Kuperstein.
Visually speaking, The Eyes of My Mother is both repellent and gorgeous, a sickly twisted tale of loneliness and love wrapped up in a black-and-white blanket which artfully obscures the gruesome imagery. That being said, before I watched the supplementary interview with the director, I wasn't so sure the gore was the reason why Pesce chose black-and-white, although I was certain it wasn't because of budgetary reasons. If anything, the film reminded me of looking at an old family photo album, something you would find in your grandparents' attic or basement, filled with pictures from the early to mid 20th century. The time period suggests contemporary, however, there were plenty of antique ingredients such as the farmhouse furniture, family automobile, as well as the vintage shows and classic movies (one with Vincent Price, whom the director is obviously a fan) always playing on the family television. At the center of this character study are remarkably haunting performances by Olivia Bond and Kika Magalhães who both play Francesca as a young girl and a young woman, respectively. Critics have cited influences such as early David Lynch and classic Hitchcock, while having overtones of Edgar Allan Poetry and Charles Laughton's The Night of the Hunter. However, I think the most apt description came from A.A. Dowd of the AV Club, who likened the film to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre had it been filmed by Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. As detective Sam Spade, played by Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon would say, “This is the stuff that nightmares are made of.”
- BLU-RAY SPECS & EXTRAS -
Magnet Home Entertainment gives us an excellent Blu-ray of The Eyes of My Mother with minimal extras, although considering the film's ambiguous nature, it's perfectly understandable, even appreciative. The film's monochrome image is a thing of beauty in this 2.39:1, 1080p resolution which is full of striking detail both indoors and outdoors. There's not only plenty for the eyes but also for the ears to absorb, with speckles of rain, ticking of clocks, kisses of love and body stabbings all coming through without issue in the 5.1 Master Audio lossless track. Ariel Loh's score adds much to film's disquieting tone. Subtitles are provided in English and Spanish, although it must be noted that some lines of dialogue are delivered in Portuguese with yellow English subtitles. Extras are limited to a 3-minute photo gallery with some shots in color, others in black-and-white as well as a 13-minute interview with writer-director Nicolas Pesce. The director stipulates that the film was written as a love letter to the horror films he grew up on (particularly American Gothic and the works of William Castle, as well as the aforementioned The Night of the Hunter); he also reveals his reasons for going black-and-white which was entirely because of Francesca's view of the world and how her character develops as the story moves forward (again, a very wise decision). He also confesses that his own mother was a surgeon was one of the other creative sparks. Overall, it's a satisfying interview which thankfully avoids any concrete explanations and keeps the film's ambiguity intact, marred only by black pauses to edit out the interviewer questions. In closing, Pesce also addresses the film's crazy reaction at the Sundance Film Festival and noted the walkouts as “awesome” and that he's never attended a screening which didn't have walkouts which he's found complimentary (and so he should). If you want to watch a horror movie which is by turns unique, gorgeous and gruesome, I can't recommend The Eyes of My Mother highly enough, particularly being viewed on Magnet's Blu-ray.
- ABOUT THE AUTHOR -
Stone Gasman has been addicted to cinema ever since he was a child, becoming hooked on Chaplin, Hitchcock and Wilder by the time he was 10 years old. The film which changed his life was The Best Years of Our Lives, the 1946 winner for Best Picture and eight additional Oscars, which ultimately inspired him to join the US Navy. He is now a disabled veteran residing in New York City.