Francisca is a young woman with a peculiar understanding of death. As a girl, she lived with her parents in a secluded country home. As part of her daily lessons, her mother, formerly a surgeon in Portugal, taught her about anatomy and how to be unaffected by death. One day an unexpected visitor would fracture their peaceful and serene country existence. While Francisca’s father is away the stranger murders her mother, but is then subdued by her father when he arrives home moments too late to save his wife.
The stranger is neither killed by her father nor arrested by local authorities, and is instead held captive in their barn. Francisca’s mother is interred, unceremoniously, to a grave in the nearby woods. And while neither Francisca nor her father show any emotion throughout this ordeal, it’s not to say they aren’t somehow deeply affected by the experience.
For years Francisca lives with only two companions: he father and Charlie, the murderer in the barn. As part of his punishment, Francisca uses the skills her mother taught her to render Charlie blind and mute. This relegates him to something of a pet and plaything for Francisca.
When Francisca’s father passes away, her life becomes void of any true human contact. She begins to experiences unfamiliar and unnurtured feelings and desires. She seeks to find a true connection. But what will be the result for an individual who‘s living a life that’s so truly disconnected?
Nicolas Pesce pulled triple duty on this film as writer, director and co-editor, and what he has created is nothing short of elegantly simple yet profound and beautifully macabre. The story really examines the life of a young woman who may understand the concepts of life and death, but seems to have no real grasp on humanity. Because once she really begins to explore her emotions, appetites and desires, she doesn’t know how to act upon them appropriately. And it’s this that makes the film very disturbing, albeit not scary in the traditional sense. But in this instance, nontraditional works very well.
The performances are another example of beauty by way of simplicity. Each performer gave genuine performances with the proper subtlety. Kika Magalhães really typifies that old saying, “It’s the quiet ones you gotta watch.” She displays a sullen shyness that makes her seem fragile or delicate. But there is also a bizarre curiosity about her that puts the viewer on edge at times and rightfully so. Another performance that deserves attention is Will Brill’s portrayal of Charlie, the man who murders Francisca’s mother. His first appearance on screen makes him seem unassuming, but only for the briefest of moments. Because Charlie very quickly shows that his intentions are very dark indeed. But it’s his post murder transformation to a man that exists much like an animal, or dare I say pet for Francisca’s amusement, that deserves equal attention.
The entire film is shot in black and white and there are no real specific time markers, save for some clips from episodes of Bonanza (1959-1973) and the horror film House on Haunted Hill (1958). Also modes of dress, vehicles, home furnishings, specifically a vintage rotary table model phone and tube television, give no real hints at contemporaneity (that’s modern or contemporary to you and me, Rusty). So this film basically takes place after 1958, but we’re given no real idea when. The use of any music within the film is only incidental, as it pertains to what’s occurring at the time, thus being played within the scenes rather than over them The use of black and white also speaks to the kind of drab, dispassionate existence of this family and how it carries on as such during Francisca’s life.
Zach Kuperstein’s cinematography, while not flashy, is solid. The same can be said for the editing done by Nicolas Pesce and Connor Sullivan. But with a film like this, the use of sophisticated angles, camera movements, and editing tricks could do more harm than good. They could in fact destroy the look and feel this film is trying to convey, because sometimes a filmmaker can polish and shine their way to little or no substance.
This film is yet another example of not having to choose between art and horror, because obviously there are times when you can have both. It also gives us an example of a “villain” that is not so much evil, as she is horribly out of touch with humanity. And that in some respect makes her even more disturbing. Presently we are seeing the rise of a minimalist horror films movement that has shown tie and time again that if the story is disturbing or creepy enough, there is no need for a film to be laden with overly flashy of gory effects. Granted, The Eyes of My Mother will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I truly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Therefore, my Little Monsters, I feel justified giving it 8 ½ / 10.