“Loneliness can do strange things to the mind.”

Few films leave me breathless. Shocked. Speechless. Unsettled. Disturbed. Like I’ve been filled top-to-toe with direst cruelty and existential dread then had my guts ripped out, drained, left hollow, spent. Maybe the first film since Pascal Laugier’s sublime Martyrs to achieve such a feat, American writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s skin-crawling slice of arthouse American Gothic, The Eyes Of My Mother, feels like Ingmar Bergman hired Flannery O’Connor to write him a rural torture porn, an unholy murder ballad/fado remix whisper-screamed straight in your lizard-brain.

A child, Francisca (Olivia Bond) lives with her Portuguese mother and stoic father on an isolated farm in rural America, her former surgeon mother teaching her the fine art of dissection, honing her skills on dead livestock. When a mysterious stranger, Charlie (Will Brill) calls at the farm one afternoon and Francisca’s mother is unwise enough to allow him into the house, Francisca’s father returns to find Charlie doing very bad things to his wife’s corpse in the bathtub.

Attacking and subduing Charlie, the father decides to hold him captive, to make him pay, chaining Charlie up in the barn and allowing Francisca to tend his wounds, the killer regaling Francisca with tales of the thrill of taking a life. Right up until she silences him by slicing his vocal cords and cutting out his eyes, assuring him she won’t allow him to die; he is, after all, her only friend.

As Francisca’s father dies and she grows to womanhood (the wonderful Kika Magalhaes taking over from the unsettlingly cherubic Bond), loneliness does indeed do strange things to Francisca’s mind as she starts killing for company, dismembering her victims and filling her freezer with plastic-wrapped body parts. But when an innocent new mother and her infant cross her path, they offer both a twisted, horrific redemption and perhaps her own undoing…

Moodily shot in an almost living, breathing, black-and-white, Pesce and cinematographer Zach Kuperstein using long-dormant expressionistic techniques, shooting day-for-night and vice versa with special filters and lighting, and drawing on influences as diverse as Cocteau, Lynch, Polanski’s Repulsion and, most obviously, Charles Laughton’s incomparable The Night Of The Hunter, to create a lanquid, dreamlike atmosphere. Staging much of the violence offscreen, Pesce instills a sense of suffocating dread, his masterful use of sound more than painting his unspeakable pictures, occasionally punctuating the action with almost casual splashes of gore and appalling suffering, his slow, deliberate pacing serving to heighten the sense of claustrophobia rather than alienate the audience.

Lithe and almost delicate, Magalhaes brings both a childlike innocence to Francisca and a ravenous, almost vampiric hunger. Starved of love, of affection, companionship, of simple human contact, the lonely little girl has warped into a desperately empathetic human monster, driven to deviance, torture and kill, her sexuality and her desire to mutilate and murder inextricably entwined. Free of malice, Magalhaes’ Francisco is closer to a natural disaster, a hurricane or flood, an act of God, her intimate performance engendering a raw, disquieting sympathy.

Bleak, beautiful and unsettling, The Eyes Of My Mother is an enthralling punch straight to the soul.


Movie Review: The Eyes Of My Mother
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