The Eyes of My Mother (2016) review

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“Have you lived here a long time?”

“My whole life.”

To quote the late, great Leonard Cohen, “You want it darker?”  Well, do you?  If so, you’ve come to the right place.  The Eyes of My Mother positively drips darkness.  Everything is hazy, foggy, dipped in ink and shot in black and white – The Eyes of My Mother is a beautiful, haunting Grim-like fairy tale, a surreal and refreshing new vision of horror.

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Told in three chapters, The Eyes of My Mother tells the grotesque and bizarre story of Francisca (played as a child by Olivia Bond, and as an adult by Kika Mgalhaes).  As a child, Francisca is raised on an isolated farm by a somewhat off-kilter family.  There, she learns the basics of anatomy from her mother – a former surgeon – through butchered animals.  In a movie so notably stripped of dialog, it’s worth re-stating her mother’s declaration that the eyes are where the soul resides.  Without giving too much away, Francisca takes this to heart, and the excision of eyes features prominently.

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What this all adds up to is a puzzling, fascinating, measured Gothic.  There are shades of Shirley Jackson here, particularly We Have Always Lived in This Castle, and I was also reminded of Cormack McCarthy’s Child of God – whether either was intentional or my own reading mapped onto this film I don’t know;  What I do know is that this is a film about the mutability of human behavior and ritual, the effects of isolation, death and madness, and it is truly beautiful to behold.  Writer/director Nicolas Pense shoots everything in stark black and white, largely with long takes and a static camera – there’s a bit of a Lynchian feel here, but Pense has a style all his own.  In a film so spare with the spoken word, where lack of sight features so prominently, it’s only fitting that the sound design is so exquisite – every chain dragged on bare boards chills.  Editing is also exceptional; the film is focused on clean storytelling, devoid of needless exposition which gives the movie room to breath, room to welcome you into it’s decayed world which makes it all the more effective.

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Is Francisca a product of her environment or her nature?  Are her actions driven by revenge, sadism, cold soulless desires to feel anything at all, or simply loneliness?  The Eyes of My Mother offers no answers, but like a nightmare, will leave you haunted.  If you’re comfortable with a journey into the more arty side of horror where the pace is slower and ambiguity is the rule, The Eyes of My Mother comes highly recommended, and is one of the best horror films of the year.

8/10

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