How is “The Eyes of My Mother” a unique horror film?


Nicolas Pesce’s feature debut The Eyes of My Mother (2016) follows young Francisca and her parents, who live in an isolated farmhouse. After a traumatizing encounter with a mysterious visitor, Francisca’s relationship with the outside world grows increasingly dark and frightening over the subsequent years. Shot in digital black and white, the dark and disturbing film takes inspiration from older horror films. Speaking in a press conference at Sundance 2016, Pesce described the importance of mood in his work and the creepy works that inspired his first film.

For Pesce, plot and specificity of setting were not the primary concerns of the film. He described, “You know, I wanted to be a little ambiguous in that, for the most part, [Francisca’s] parents and the world she is raised in is kind of separated from time. And she grows up not really having an awareness of what is going on in the world around her.” “Both her parents and her are so isolated that it could take place anywhere from the fifties to the seventies,” Pesce points out, “And it is not as much about time, but the fact that you recognize that twenty years pass and it still doesn’t feel all that different.”

This ambiguity about time and place shifted the work’s emphasis from narrative details to the aspect of the film that Pesce considered to be more important: the atmosphere. “Honestly, it has a mood and an atmosphere and it all started with how I wanted to make you guys feel,” the director explained. “My favorite movies are more about mood than they are about the story,” he admitted. “This was so much about the atmosphere in the world and we just wanted to highlight that in all the ways we could.”

This prioritizing of mood and atmosphere was a consciously atypical approach to a story that could have been played for cheap horror or thrills. Pesce pointed out that, “There are really dark, dark periods in movies and in real life and I think that sometimes what’s even more dark and more fascinating….is those quiet moments. And I kind of wanted to explore another side to characters.” He acknowledges that “this could have been made as a slasher movie.” A genre approach, however, didn’t appeal to the first-time director: “I wanted to make it a more thoughtful exploration of [the main character].”

Pesce was equally idiosyncratic in his approach to the film’s visual style, both drawing inspiration from classic horror and embracing a modern, digital look. “We didn’t want it to look like a movie that was made in the sixties,” he insisted. “We shot digital and when we were talking about black and white the decision came more from the movies we were talking about and inspired by.” He singled out Psycho (1960) as a particular influence on the look and feel of the film. The use of black and white, however, wasn’t an act of homage, but an attempt to take advantage of the full aesthetic possibilities of cinema. “It wasn’t necessarily that the black and white of those movies drove the decision,” he explained, “but I thought it was interesting that that used to be a choice you could make for your movie. And making that choice, I felt, would hopefully bring some of that nostalgia of those older thrillers.”

The Eyes of My Mother is a difficult work to pin down – the film is a quiet character study that makes use of horror narrative elements, a thoroughly modern digital creation that draws from the black and white photography of classic thrillers. This varied identity is no mistake. In his debut feature, Nicolas Pesce has consciously worked to undermine expectations and complicate cinematic tropes.