Originally published on The National Student on 13/03/17.
This short, sharp and unrelentingly dark debut is an unusual breed, but stands as all the better for it.
Despite keeping it extraordinarily simple story-wise for his first time behind the camera, Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother still kicks hard. Opening on a young girl witnessing a brutal and seriously confusing murder, things only get bloodier and more thematically dim from here, building towards an oddly sobering little horror with a seriously violent undertone.
Pesce’s 21st Century tragedy plants its roots firmly in the American outback; a quiet country farm with little distraction, or connection to the outside world. Its focus, a troubled young woman who struggles to find a place beyond the family home she’s known all her life, is obviously familiar, but just patient and eerie enough that it feels in some way fresh.
The real driving force here is an origins story; a more emotionally complex stab at what pushes some of the horror genre’s most adept and unhinged to their climactic breaking point. And whilst we usually have to suffer through the standard buckets of blood and torture to even get half an honest glimpse of what lies behind the mask (if at all), here Pesce very much leads with the latter, making any violence full-stop, although present, very much the outcome of the drama, rather than the film’s very reason for being.
The result is something which feels surprisingly patient, especially considering the ultra short 75-minute run time, and this mixed in with the haunting milkiness of the film’s black and white cinematography makes for a carefully creepy watch for sure. Although all of this will, without doubt, separate its audience massively. The cheap thrills horror crowd are unlikely to be keen on the long pauses, or more art-focussed direction, even if the almost grindhousey bloodletting more than makes up for it later on.
So Pesce’s film ends up at something of a crossroads; too careful and delicate in its framing to match the louder and more blood-hungry slasher audience, but just too wobbly and devoted to the grisliness to ever really be considered high art either. It’s such an odd blend, and whilst each of these elements alone could be hugely praised, smashing them all together does end up feeling very, very jarring.
Far from ever really being accessible to a wider audience, The Eyes of My Mother recalls moments of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night alongside more earnest echoes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween. It’s short and astute, bloody and bonkers, whilst still feeling prissy and drawn-out all at the same time. Which is just as strange to watch as you’d expect.
A deeply unusual crossbreed of so many different ideas from the horror genre as a whole, and while not all of them totally work, it’s a fascinating exercise nonetheless. Worth it for genre nuts and completists alike, but anyone seeking a low-rent thrill might need to look elsewhere.
The Eyes of My Mother is in UK cinemas 24th March.