Welcome to Women in Horror Month at We Who Walk Here, Walk Alone! Throughout February, we will be celebrating the women who make horror the spooky, scary, and sublime genre that we all love.
Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut The Eyes of My Mother is not your typical horror film, and lead actress Kika Magalhães is not your typical scream queen. Her character Francisca — a lonely woman who witnessed her mother’s murder as a child and grows up isolated and constantly reminded of her loss — is the rare movie monster to elicit as much empathy as she does disgust or fear.
Prior to her trauma, Francisca was already a lonely, damaged child. Her mother would bring a cow’s head to the kitchen table and teach young Francisca how to remove its eyes as casually as she might teach her how to bake bread, so she never quite learned to differentiate life from death the way that most of us do.
When a man named Charlie appears one day asking to be let into the house, Francisca’s mother senses danger but relents; unfortunately, her instincts were correct, and Charlie beats her to death. When Francisca’s father returns home, he finds his wife dead in the bathtub as Charlie continues to pummel her body, and he finds Francisca sitting calmly in the kitchen because, as she tells him, she wanted to keep her mother company. The story gets sadder and darker from here, as Francisca grows up with a warped understanding of love and family and takes increasingly horrific steps to stave off the loneliness that consumes her.
There are no sudden shocks or jump scares and there is little to no violence actually shown on-screen, but The Eyes of My Mother (a title that will take on multiple meanings by the end of the film) is terrifying, both in the awful things that Francisca does and in the empathy that the audience feels for her.
The dialogue is sparse and we rarely see her interact with other characters, so the film relies heavily on Magalhães’s physical performance. Her graceful, measured movements and searching, childlike facial expressions attract and repulse in equal measure, as we recognize ourselves in her longing for human connection but see that her methods for achieving that connection are anything but human.
Shot in beautiful black and white that throws Francisca’s isolation into even starker relief, The Eyes of My Mother is a compelling and disturbing exploration of grief and loneliness. Kika Magalhães gives a performance that is as lovely as it is unsettling, bringing to life a character who gets under the viewer’s skin and refuses to let go.