The Eyes of My Mother’ finds beauty in terror

Kika Magalhaes in “The Eyes of My Mother.”
Photo: Magnet Releasing / Courtesy

Three and a half stars

The Eyes of My Mother Kika Magalhaes, Will Brill, Diana Agostini. Directed by Nicholas Pesce. Rated R. Available December 2 on VOD.

In horror movies, the most frightening thing is often the inexplicable, awful situations characters find themselves in for reasons that make no sense. Life is full of random terrors, and never knowing why we are suffering is one of the scariest things to contemplate. Writer-director Nicholas Pesce’s gorgeous debut feature The Eyes of My Mother is full of unknowable horrors, courtesy of a protagonist who commits horrific acts without ever justifying or even reflecting on them. And yet in some ways Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) is a sympathetic figure, despite all the pain she inflicts on others.

Growing up on an isolated farm, Francisca forms a close bond with her mother, a doctor originally from Portugal who teaches Francisca all about dissecting animals. When a murderous drifter shows up on the family’s doorstep, Francisca gets a different kind of education, and when the movie jumps ahead to Francisca as an adult, living alone on the remote farm, she has combined her knowledges of surgery and torture into a whole new avocation. Pesce shifts the movie’s focus with remarkable precision, connecting Francisca’s status as an apparently innocent victim to her later status as a predator, and muddling the definitions of both in the process.

The movie’s visual style is as haunting as its narrative; Pesce and cinematographer Zach Kuperstein shoot in gorgeous, high-contrast black and white, giving the movie an eerie, timeless feel that goes with Francisca’s unnerving presence. Although it takes place in recognizable, realistic settings (the farm, a roadside bar), the movie has the tone of a fairy tale passed down from one teller to another, and Francisca’s actions don’t always make logical sense. Their visceral, emotional power is stronger than logic, though, and with no major new releases in theaters this week, The Eyes of My Mother is perfect home viewing for a chilly night.

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