Eyes of My Mother, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe partakes in a bit of unnecessary surgery and black & white photography...
In a family's secluded farmhouse, a mother (Diana Agostini), formerly a surgeon in Portugal, teaches her daughter, Francisca (Kika Magalhaes), to understand anatomy and be unfazed by death. However, one afternoon, a mysterious visitor horrifyingly shatters the idyll of Francisca’s family life, deeply traumatizing the young girl, but also awakening some unique curiosities. (From Magnet’s official synopsis)
Indie horror has made a big impact over the last half decade thanks in large part to a very modern brand of low/medium budget films fronted by unique concepts, strong allegories, and strong word-of-mouth advertising. First-time writer/director/editor Nicolas Pesce’s The Eyes of My Mother certainly belongs to this ‘new pantheon’ by recalling the stark enigmatice of Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) and the delusory photography and moral ambiguity of Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015). Much like these movies, Eyes of My Mother considers the work of earlier filmmakers without paying obvious homage, like the geeky, referential movies of the previous decade. There are hints of the ‘90s brand of black & white indie horror – Michael Almereyda’s Nadja (1994) and Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction (1995) – and its raw aesthetic owe a considerable debt to reactive ‘60s/’70s horror. Pesce’s expresses the alien and the familiar at the same time via an equally intimate and impassive filming style. The film’s ideas and images are rarely “new” – the basic set-up is a combination of the well-tread concepts of everything from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) to Lucky McKee’s May (2002) – but they are combined in a deeply unsettling fashion that supersedes regular notions of plot and character development. Sometimes, this calculated mundanity can feel like an empty attempt at being profound and the deliberate pacing may drive some viewers away, yet, when it works, the stylistic choices beautifully imply normality in the face of utter insanity.
The gore and psychological terror is all presented in a sobering and matter-of-fact fashion. The grotesque bodily harm intensities so slowly that even the most squeamish viewer may find themselves acclimated to the nastiest elements before they occur. They may also find that this ‘cozier’ kind of violence affects them for a longer period than the visceral punch of a mainstream slasher movie. Here, the nastiness of physical deterioration isn’t exploited for grim titillation; rather, they coincide with mental and emotional deterioration. The correlation doesn’t always work, especially when the film takes to navel-gazing between its more fully-formed sequences. Kika Magalhaes’ mellow, yet wide-eyed performance definitely sells the emotional destitution when the depressingly austere tone occasionally fails. She anchors the film and helps remind us that Eyes of My Mother’s real shock value is not in its violence, but the eerie relatability of that violence.
The Eyes of My Mother was shot using Red Epic digital HD cameras and is presented here in 1080p, 2.35:1 video. Pesce and cinematographer Zach Kuperstein really, really push the darkness of the completely black & white photography, to the point that some of the screencaps on this page may look like nothing at all. Fortunately, I can assure you that everything is clear enough on-screen and in motion to convey the intended dread. Despite the slight haze of digital noise, subtle gradations and pillowy diffused lighting schemes are not blocky or banded. That diffusion can blow-out some fine detail and, when coupled with the slight distortion of super-wide anamorphic lenses, some images do appear a bit bleached. Still, fine texture and complex patterns are not completely hidden within the deep black shadows and stark backgrounds.
Eyes of My Mother is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. It’s an understated movie by nature, but the sound design is impressively hyperrealistic. The dry interiors and breezy exteriors pop with the types of natural noises that other mixes simply ignore. Stuff like breath, the shifting fabric of clothing, and fingers gliding over rough surfaces sits in place of the jump scares and supernatural bugaboos of a standard horror film. Directional effects are seldom employed outside of driving sequences, where the car’s engine other ambience slips into the stereo and surround channels. Sometimes, vocalizations are distorted as distressingly soft whispers become louder, but this is clearly part of the filmmakers’ design, rather than a compression issue with the track (I believe the actors are wearing lapel mics, instead of being recorded via a boom). Ariel Loh’s melancholic, floating synth, bell, and guitar score is coupled with traditional Portuguese music to drive home the utter bleakness of the situation.
- Behind-the-scenes photo montage (3:14, HD)
- Interview with director Nicolas Pesce (13:34, HD) – The writer/director discusses his inspirations, the concepts behind the film, developing his main character’s personality, the film’s isolated environment, audience reactions, and future projects.
- Trailer and trailers for other Magnolia/Magnet releases
The Eyes of My Mother is a minor entry in the post-2010 horror canon, but it’s worth sharing with other jaded genre aficionados in search of something with a bit more emotional bite. At the very least, it seems to be a good indication of what neophyte writer/director Nicolas Pesce could possibly accomplish in the future with the kinks ironed out and a larger budget. It’s a very dark film with purposefully over-cooked audio design, so the Blu-ray probably won’t become your next demo disc, but the transfer and DTS-HD MA soundtrack both appear to match the filmmakers’ intentions. The extras are disappointing, though, including only a behind-the-scenes gallery and a relatively fluffy director interview.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray, then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 7th March 2017
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English/Portuguese
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: Behind-the-Scenes Photo Gallery, Director Interview, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Nicolas Pesce
Cast: Kika Magalhães, Olivia Bond, Diana Agostini, Paul Nazak
Genre: Drama and Horror
Length: 76 minutes
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