When she was a little girl, Francisca's (Olivia Bond) Portuguese mother (Diana Agostini), a former surgeon now farmer, tells her that a cow's eyes are just like a human's, encouraging the girl to learn anatomy as they dissect one in their kitchen. It is an odd yet peaceful existence until a stranger, Charlie (Will Brill, "Not Fade Away"), invades their isolated home. Francisca's older dad (Paul Nazak) returns to a horrific scene, handling it without notifying authorities, but the events will warp the mind of his lonely daughter in "The Eyes of My Mother."
Writer/director Nicolas Pesce's debut got a lot of attention at 2016's Sundance Film Festival, but the film is largely notable for its eerie visuals (digitally shot in color, then converted to black & white), horrific sound design and plaintive music, Ariel Loh's organic score complemented with Portuguese Fado. Pesce's story will be familiar to anyone who's seen such films as Lucky McKee's "The Woman" or Jim Mickle's "We Are What We are" or read about British serial killer Dennis Nilsen. His lead actress, Kika Magalhaes (the adult Francisca), moves like a dancer, but even taking Francisca's psychosis into account, her performance is too robotic.
After the brutal attack and its aftermath, Francisca's response is to clean up the mess and ask her father if he'd like her to cook something for him. This could be attributable to shock, but her subsequent actions reveal a shattered mind, one that equates mutilation and chained restraint with companionship. When her bedridden, aged father dies, Francisca not only washes his body, but climbs into the tub with him, begging him not to leave her. Her 'friendship' with her mother's killer ramps up, Charlie invited into her home and her bed, but his pitiable escape attempt does not end well. Utterly alone, Francisca goes to a club and strikes up a friendship with Kimiko (Clara Wong), who soon realizes there is something very wrong with the woman who's invited her back home. Lucy (Flora Diaz) picks Francisca up on the side of the road, but Lucy has something worth fighting for - her young son Antonio (Joey Curtis-Green).
The film's first and final scenes evoke the last-woman-standing from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and many films that have followed in its footsteps, but Pesce creates an aura of isolation and mystery despite the familiar image. None of Pesce's cast stand out as much as his location, a farmhouse that evokes America's heartland and European immigration, clocks quietly ticking, fresh white laundry hanging on the line. Pesce's debut marks a highly specific world view that seems to have come from a very personal place but the filmmaker's quietly creepy aesthetic is far more interesting than anything he has to say.
Robin gives "The Eyes of My Mother" a C+.
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