By Scott Dorward
The Eyes of My Mother (USA, 2016)
The Eyes of My Mother is another film I’ve been meaning to watch for some time. I recently saw director Nicolas Pesce’s adaptation of Piercing, which reminded me to catch up with his first feature. While I greatly preferred Ryū Murakami’s original novel, the visual flair Pesce brought to Piercing grabbed my attention. I was keen to see how he’d fare in telling a story of his own creation.
Francisca lives on a farm with her parents. Her mother was an eye surgeon in Portugal before moving to the USA, and she teaches Francisca surgical techniques using animal carcasses. Such childhood pleasures are brought to a sudden end when a stranger comes to the farm and murders Francisca’s mother. Her father captures the man and chains him up in the barn, keeping him as some combination of prisoner and pet.
In her mother’s absence, Francisca’s relationship with her father with becomes simultaneously distant and creepily intimate, with the two sharing a bed. When her father eventually dies, well into Francisca’s adulthood, she keeps his body in the house, her only company apart from the man in the barn.
Faced with such isolation and no real social skills, Francisca tries to find ways of building a new family for herself. Of course, with the lessons she has learned from both her parents, this is not a happy experience for anyone she comes across.
I really wish I hadn’t seen The Eyes of My Mother so soon after Hagazussa. These are both slow, artistic tales, filled with gruesome images, set around woodlands, about isolated girls who lost their mothers and grew into monstrous women. If The Eyes of My Mother hadn’t been in black and white, I might have felt I was watching the same film again.
The use of black and white both adds to the gloomy mood and distances us from the gore. If this were in colour, it would be a bloody film indeed. Even then, most of the actual acts of violence happen off-screen, leaving us to witness the aftermath and infer what happened. This gives us space to focus on the emotions driving Francisca’s atrocities, but it also disconnects us from them at times. While I appreciate understated horror, The Eyes of My Mother is perhaps too understated to deliver the impact it so clearly wants to.
Ultimately, The Eyes of My Mother is a film about loneliness and what it can drive us to do. I was reminded of the title of Brian Masters’ book about the serial killer Dennis Nilsen: Killing For Company. There are some uncomfortable parallels between Nilsen’s crimes and what we see here, although the shabby ordinariness of Nilsen’s life is a start contrast to the eccentricity we see here.
The first 20 minutes or so of The Eyes of My Mother, where we meet Francisca as a child, are the strongest part of the film. Her mother’s use of dissection as a way of bonding with her daughter is unsettling. Theirs is both a strong relationship and an uncomfortable one. Once we move into Francisca’s adulthood, however, the film never quite hits the same emotional heights. I might have been happier watching a short film entirely about Francisca as a child.
At 76 minutes, The Eyes of My Mother is short for a feature film. Its slow pace makes it feel much longer, however. While it never quite becomes boring, I did find my attention drifting. The relative simplicity of its story doesn’t help on this front. Once you get past the first act, the trajectory of the film is obvious and you are unlikely to be surprised. This is definitely a film that places atmosphere over story.
As with Hagazussa, I would rather have seen The Eyes of My Mother on the big screen. It can be hard to fully appreciate a film that relies so heavily on visual storytelling when watching it at home. Still, I suspect that many of my misgivings about the pace would still apply even if I had been immersed in its full visual glory.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Possessor (2020)
- The Boogey Man (1980)
- Jakob’s Wife (2021)
- The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
- Cold Hell (2017)
- Seance (2021)
- The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
- Dachra (2018)
- Isle of the Dead (1945)
- After Midnight (2019)
- The Baby (1973)
- Hagazussa (2017)
- Frightmare (1974)
- The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
- Dave Made a Maze (2017)
- Raw (2016)
- The Old Ways (2020)
- Terror Train (1980)
- mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
- Sator (2019)
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
- The Lighthouse (2019)
- Anything For Jackson (2020)
- Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
- The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
- The Wizard of Gore (1970)
- Fingers (2019)
- Lake Bodom (2016)
- Island of Lost Souls (1932)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!