Francisca's mother (Diana Agostini) used to be a surgeon in Portugal, or so she used to tell her daughter, with a specialisation in eyes, and to pass the time on their farm she would describe to the little girl (Olivia Bond) in detail precisely how to carry out operations, just in case that information should come in useful and besides, it keeps the child enthralled where she receives no other human interaction other than that of her father (Paul Nazak). However, one day somebody did show up; she and her mother believed Charlie (Will Brill) was a salesman, and he was carrying what looked like merchandise, but he claimed not to be selling anything and merely asked to use the bathroom. Her mother's big mistake was letting him into the house...
If there was any indie horror movie that arrived with more hype than the others in 2016, it was The Eyes of My Mother, proof that the independent market for chillers was taking a lot more chances than anything in the mainstream. However, and this had become extremely predictable ever since The Blair Witch Project rewrote the rulebook for twenty-first century horror, for every viewer praising this to the high heavens, there was another, equal and opposite viewer accusing it of being a waste of their time and nothing like what they wanted in a shocker. Not that this example was going to be as influential as the Blair Witch, it was far too arty for that, but like that it was not sticking to the conventional.
Therefore we didn't have jump scares, nor did we have the red of gore since the entire cinematography was rendered in gleaming black and white, though there were nasty scenes as characters were subjected to all sorts of tortuous indignities, and there was no music on the soundtrack other than what Francisca (played as an adult by the intriguing Kika Magalhaes) put onto her record player, mostly lachrymose Portuguese tunes of a far earlier vintage (though the precise time frame of the action was not quite able to be pinned down). Writer and director Nicolas Pesce, here making his debut, was not about to deliver much of what audiences had seen before, which in this case was taking the creepy girl of many a horror and making her the heroine.
You could see elements of Lucky McKee's May here, except this was far more serious and sombre in mood, not one laugh in it, but they did share a protagonist defined by one overpowering emotion: loneliness. Francisca tested your sympathy to the very limit with her actions, yet the way she was written and performed sensitively by Magalhaes suggested vast voids of isolation that she was unprepared for how to deal with, hence her misguided (to put it mildly) attempts to salve that ache in her soul. Her parents pass away and that leaves us in the present day, where her only friend (according to her) is Charlie, who now is kept chained up where she can pass the time feeding him and operating on him occasionally, but by this stage he has descended into insensibility - a punishment for what he does early on in the film.
Francisca does make a pathetic move towards companionship when she picks up a girl in a bar (Clara Wong) and takes her home for activities even she is not sure about herself, but when the visitor is freaked out by her hostess's strangeness the encounter ends miserably, though Pesce had a habit of cutting away from the action that would be classed as horror, the attacks, basically, and leaving us seeing the aftermath. Therefore when Francisca goes even further and decides she wants to start a family of her own, the conventional route was not for her, nope, she goes ahead and kidnaps a baby to raise; the mother is even less fortunate, becoming one of the denizens of the barn. Obviously you could brand Francisca as the spiritual child of Ed Gein or cinematically, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and there was a nineteen-seventies austerity to many scenes, if through the filter of twenty-tens art movie, but the emphasis was on the supposed villainess's circumstances, as if her behaviour was more her parents' fault for being so twisted and passing that on to their offspring. As a result, this was one of the most melancholy, if revolting, of its kind, always a strange combination.
THE EYES OF MY MOTHER is in UK cinemas 24th March 2017.