Opting to focus more on building a foreboding mood over an engaging narrative, debut film-maker Nicolas Pesce delivers an austere, redolent debut feature which slightly stirs and disturbs at times but, at a slender seventy six minutes, it is still often shockingly monotonous.
The story (broken down into chapters) focuses on a young girl called Francisca (Olivia Bond): a shy child who lives an isolated, tranquil existence on a remote Portuguese farm with her mother (Diana Agostini) and father (Paul Nazak). Until the day a tormented passer-by, posing as a salesman (Will Brill), enters their lives and adjusts the family dynamics. TEOMM unravels with the air of an art-house torture porn b-movie/ graduate film, captured in mucky black and white for extra gothic gravitas, Pesce’s film fails to crack into its protagonist or excavate enough emotion to enrich the narrative. Pesce reduces his audience to the role of passive observers, subjecting them to various acts of full blown, bloody, black and white brutality but anyone seeking anything emotionally enrapturing will be bitterly disappointed.
Aside from stirring aesthetically by way of its haunting vistas, TEOMM is an endurance test and will be worse for non- horror fans/ those impartial to angry splats of guts and claret. Upsetting scenes of death and torture wantonly unfurl as the story charts Francisca’s growth from childhood into adolescence (as an adult she is played by Kika Magalhaes) before she buds into a sociopath. Her mental affliction flourishes to form a fractured personality but there isn’t much of a narrative to gild the emotional beats or an astute enough arc to truly engage. TEOMM’s inability to burrow deep beneath its protagonist’s surface, combined with several taxing moments of Noir bloodshed, makes TEOMM an often unsettling experience. Francisca cares for a dubious choice of pet, keeps the dead body of a family member close by for comfort (bathing and watching TV with them) and kills without remorse or forethought. Francisca had an early, direct exposure to bodily repugnance, due to her mother being a surgeon, so is (like most horror fans) desensitised to the slaughter.
It is genuinely unsettling at times though with enough gruelling horror to suggest Pesce could go on to craft much better work as TEOMM is far from generic but the script is stretched and underdeveloped. At 76 minutes though, it still seems too long but this debut feature could’ve made an awesome short and (from a visual perspective) is a unique calling card for Pesce as a director.
The Eyes of My Mother is released on March 24th