Imagine the body-horror of Hostel pitted with the terrifying premise of Oldboy and you’re getting somewhere close to writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s disturbing debut, The Eyes of My Mother. Part German Expressionism, part American Gothic, this austere black-and-white feature is fuelled as much by ideas as it is by the power to shock.
In small-town America, young Fransisca (Kika Magalhaes) watches helplessly as her mother is brutally murdered by a stranger (Will Brill) whom she foolishly invited inside. When her father returns home, he stabs the murderer, but instead of letting him die he comes up a more frightening plan – chaining him up in their neighbouring barn. First, though, he removes his eyes.
The now disfigured young man, named Charlie, becomes Fransisca’s companion as she grows up from a child to adulthood. “Why would I kill you? You’re my only friend” she slyly whispers to the naked, cadaverous body as if to justify keeping him prisoner. Soon, he becomes her de-facto lover – until he tries to escape.
Later, as an adult, Fransisca lures innocent victims back to her isolated ranch. Any sympathy we might have had for her evaporates when an innocent party – a mother – in the wrong place at the wrong time – gets shacked up by her in the same barn. The claustrophobic second half of the film takes us into even weirder and more unsettling territory.
The Eyes of My Mother is in essence an exploitation flick about loneliness and social isolation. One disorientating factor in Fransisca’s story is her own mother’s history as a surgeon in Portugal – in the film’s opening scene we see her dissect a cow’s eyes (“In Portugal we dissect cattle, here they dissect people.”) Fransisca’s dedication to her mother means that she dissects her every victim, using chopped up body parts to feed the shackled prisoners she’s kept alive, who are so desperately hungry that they’ll eat anything.
The Eyes of My Mother is an American horror film written, edited and directed by Nicolas Pesce as his directorial debut. The film was produced by Borderline Presents and Tandem Pictures. It premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival to a polarizing reception and was acquired by Magnet Releasing.
The Eyes of My Mother
Directed by: Nicolas Pesce
Starring: Diana Agostini, Olivia Bond, Will Brill, Joey Curtis-Green, Flora Diaz, Kika Magalhaes, Paul Nazak, Clara Wong
Screenplay by: Nicolas Pesce
Production Design by: Sam Hensen
Cinematography by: Zach Kuperstein
Film Editing by: Nicolas Pesce, Connor Sullivan
Costume Design by: Whitney Anne Adams
Art Direction by: Caroline Keenan Russell
Music by: Ariel Loh
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing violent content and behavior, and brief nudity.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Release Date: November 18, 2016