‘The Eyes of My Mother’ is an Atmospheric, Unsettling Exercise in Horror

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The Eyes of My Mother

Not all horror movies require moments of startling jump scares that slightly increase your heart rate for a brief moment to be effective. The Eyes of My Mother, the directorial debut of writer-director Nicolas Pesce, is an increasingly unsettling exercise in horror that never depends on the jump scares to emphasize its creepy material. Seemingly culled from history of infamous killers, The Eyes of My Mother features a lead character that feels like Ed Gein ventured into the field of optometry.

As a young girl, Francesca (Olivia Bond) learned various lessons of anatomy and life from her mother (Diana Agostini), a former eye surgeon in Portugal. One day, a stranger (Will Brill) approaches their secluded rural home and proceeds to force his way into the home before killing the mother. When Francesca’s father (Paul Nazak) returns home, he beats the stranger and leaves him bloodied in their barn where young Francesca becomes infatuated with the beaten man, using his body as a living cadaver to continue her lessons in anatomy. As she gets older, Francesca (now played by Kika Magalhaes) grows increasingly lonely as her elderly father has passed. Now Francesca goes out of her way to find new reluctant companions to ease the growing feelings of loneliness.

Pesce’s film isn’t a movie of unrelenting tension, but the unease it invokes in its viewers is unrelenting. The black and white cinematography of Zack Kuperstein and the sparse musical score Ariel Loh lend a creepy atmosphere to the escalating horrors that Francesca perpetrates. Those atrocities aren’t excessively gore for the queasy horror fan nor are they exactly tame, but Pesce strikes a deft balance between leaving horror to the imagination and providing the audience glimpses of the ghastly terror. The Eyes of My Mother doesn’t waste a minute of its sparse running time as Nicolas Pesce crafts a piece of horror that is atmospheric and unsettling throughout and always willing to take its story in unexpected places.

What really makes The Eyes of My Mother so unsettling is the innocence that Kika Magalhaes brings to the role of Francesca. It’s one thing when you’re dealing with an evil that understands itself to be evil, but Francesca has a child-like mentality that only finds comfort and friendship through sadistic forms of anatomical exploration. The movie operates as a character study in the aching loneliness that defines Francesca’s life from the day that stranger arrived onward, and without a healthy outlet for her feelings of solitude leads the character into the darkest recesses of her mind. As Francesca descends further and further away from reality and morality the film takes a darker and darker turn leading to a shocking final act that is simply chilling.

The Eyes of My Mother is a standout piece of horror filmmaking and a standout directorial debut for Nicolas Pesce. It marks one of the most unsettling pieces of horror to grace the screen in 2016 with moments that leave a gruesome mark on your mind. There are moments from The Eyes of My Mother that I’ll have a hard time forgetting. But more so, I’ll be anxiously looking forward to what Nicolas Pesce has to offer in the future.

The Eyes of My Mother
  • Overall Score


Creepy and increasingly unsettling, The Eyes of My Mother is an assured directorial debut by Nicolas Pesce that escalates in its unease as it follows a lonely and disturbed protagonist.

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