Well. It is Halloween weekend and instead of binge eating chocolate I have leaned into the darker traditions of the holiday-scary movie watching. Tonight before going out I started the first episode of Stranger Things (only months behind everyone else!) and interrupted it to go to an early screening of The Eyes of My Mother, an art horror movie that was debuted (or just shown maybe? Who even knows?) at Sundance this year.
The IMDB description of this movie is: “A young, lonely woman is consumed by her deepest and darkest desires after tragedy strikes her quiet country life” which, is a very euphemistic way to talk about what is basically a perfume ad for serial killing. The movie begins (well I missed the first three minutes because I was late, so my experience of the movie begins) with a little girl and her mother in a field outside their house. The mother is speaking a combination of Portuguese and English to her daughter as they navigate a filed of cows and flowers. Cut to them in the kitchen and a severed cow’s head on the table. The mother is calmly speaking to the girl as she slices into the cow (some close shots here of liquids popping and dripping) and removes both eyes.
Next we see (through the kitchen window) a man talking to the daughter. The mother rushes outside and calls the daughter to her. The man (Will Brill as “Charlie”) takes this as an introduction, “Oh, her name’s Francisca?” and smooth talks his way into the house by asking if he can use the bathroom. Once inside he murders the mother in a tub. The acting in this scene from Charlie is pretty stand alone in the film. The subtle dance (that’s right, I said it) between calm and unhinged that he weaves was engrossing and impressive and wretched. He was the DEFINITION of horror. Also apparently he had to leave this filming early to do a top secret David Fincher project so he will probably blow up in the next year or so!!
The father comes home in the middle of this killing (shown from a single continuous shot-like if the car scene in Children of Men was in a bumpy truck) and ends it with a bang. That last sentence isn’t euphemism, a lot of the action is not shown, so the audience is left to infer from noises they hear what occurred. As it turns out, the father didn’t kill Charlie, he simply beat him with something made of glass (a large cat figurine? an old window? Samuel L. Jackson’s cane from Unbreakable?? We don’t know!!) and chained him up in the barn. The daughter (who is around 10 at this point) goes into the barn to clean his wounds, feed him, and then remove his eyes (we all turn into our mothers!!!). We get a very satisfying question and answer session between serial killer and victim that I haven’t ever seen before where she gets to ask him, “Why us?” and he answers, “You let me in.” She probes further, correctly assuming that he’s done it before (affirmative nod) and then asks why. His, “Because it feels fantastic” answer is pretty on par for the course of most horror films- the scary thing is supposed to be that people are so different from us and they just do these horrific things because it’s good to them.
The daughter (Francisca) then goes back into the house, sits on the couch with her father and informs him, “He won’t scream anymore” (something to that effect) because she has also cut out his voice box.
The story is broken up into three numbered chapters, “Mother,” “Father,” and “Family.” There’s a whole bunch more horrifying things in this first chapter- the dad (after ignoring his daughter and watching TV the night his wife is brutally murdered), comes into her room, sits on the end of her bed and says, “I need help with your mother.” If we were anywhere else that phrase might mean, “She’s shopping too much again!” or even a little darker, some kind of addiction that needs to be addressed, but here in this terror farm, it means her dead body is heavy and I need you, her tiny daughter, to help me drag it into the woods.
Oh, in the barn before the daughter performed amateur surgery on him, Charlie asked if she was going to kill him and Francisca replied, “Why would I kill you? You’re my only friend.” And it must be clarified: it’s not in the singsong doll language that we often get from little kids in horror movies, it’s in the surprised realism of a person who is aware of a situation/so indoctrinated by isolation that her response to the man who murdered her mother basically in front of her is one of friendship. Somebody get this kid a Polly Pocket amirite??
The second chapter (“Father”) starts with him dead in his bed and the girl about 10 years older, moving his corpse around the house with her, doing things with it (dancing, bathing, watching TV, crying) and generally being creepy. After we see her do some house stuff (eating a meal by herself very slowly) and feeding Charlie in the barn (he’s also been chained up for about ten years now) she goes out. We see her pull up to a bar called Donna’s, but we never see inside.
This could have been because the filmmakers wanted the landscape of the film to mostly be in the barn, or because they didn’t have a very big budget.
Francisca has brought a woman back with her, Kimiko (Clara Wong). They’re kind of flirting/ exchanging small talk and unfortunately for her Kimiko brings up Francisca’s parents. After Francisca says her mom was “killed by somebody” (way to keep the mystery alive Francisca!) Kimiko says, “And your dad?” and she says, “I killed him” which it’s unclear if this is a joke or the truth. Kimiko realizes she’s made a horrible mistake and tries to get out, but as we found out leaving Donna’s when Kimiko asks, “Are you from here?” and Francisca says “a few towns over,” they are absolutely in the middle of nowhere. Kimiko starts panicking and saying she needs to leave and Francisca keeps offering to give her a ride more and more frantically, then we cut to a scene of Francisca cleaning pooled blood off the floor.
Something I perhaps forgot to mention is that this movie is set a while ago. I’m not sure when exactly but there are only rotary phones/landlines. No cell phones/any technology besides running water.
Realization: I guess I shouldn’t go through scene by scene and describe what took place because we are like one fifth of the way through and it would take wayy too long. Basically, Francisca keeps lowkey murdering and one day she hitchhikes a ride home from the forest from a mom and her baby. She asks to hold the baby for one minute and the mom says no at first but then gives in, at which point Francisca takes off with the baby into her house. Once the mom finally gets in the house, she runs upstairs towards the sound of her baby crying from behind a cracked door. As she’s peering through it and finally opens it, Francisca comes up from behind and stabs her. Then she moves the mom to the shackle station in the barn (she murdered Charlie after she let him out to have sex with him and he tried to run away 😦 ) removes her eyes and voice box, and raises the child as her own.
When he’s like eight, one night he follows his curiosity into the barn and encounters his mom for the first time. Then a few nights later he goes in and sets her free. She escapes and somehow communicates to the police where the barn is. The cops come in the night while Francisca is in the woods hugging her dead father’s body that she dug up (you know how night is!). She runs back to the house to protect her “son,” and the police shoot and kill her. The End!
Ok so some general thoughts: I saw the movie at an advanced screening and there was a talkback at the end with one of the producers and two of the production designers where people asked questions that I feel gave me a lot of insight. First, the producer guy said the point (because my friend I watched the movie with was like, “What was the point?”) was that often when someone catches a serial killer, huge parts of their life become publicized and speculated on but there are a lot of other moments leading up to that point that contribute to those that aren’t thought about/considered and I think in this movie they tried to show the steps leading up to perhaps the more public ones in a serial killer’s life.
I don’t know- generally, I hate horror as a genre- it seems unnecessary and base? When horror movies are good they can be engaging and thought provoking and when they’re really good they’re called psychological thrillers (lol just kiddinggg). I liked some of the moments that were created in this movie- first being, when the boy saw his mother for the first time, and she looked so scary, she was this monster (it looked like) but for the audience to know that his “normal life” was the real nightmare, and what looked to be scary was actually his life, that was a mental punch I appreciated. From an acting stand point, Charlie (Will Brill) knocked it out of the fucking park, as did Clara Wong. The scene with Clara was my favorite because it seemed the most genuine and unique interaction (some of the other ones relied on horror tropes pretty heavily-the singsong voice, staring into space, talking slowly and with weird affect- I didn’t really think Francisca (Kika Magalhaes) was a consistent actor- some scenes were phenomenal, others felt very campy). Visually the film was pretty stunning, there was an aerial shot of Francisca’s dead father in a milky bath, a huge panned back shot of Francisca getting into the mother’s truck, lotta good tree/forest shots in general, a bird’s eye view shot of the house at the end when the cops shoot Francisca, etc. It looked great for the most part. It was also all in black and white which I stopped noticing really early on. It was like when you read a book in an old vernacular but then you get really into it and it stops registering to you as not normal.
The version I saw didn’t have subtitles for all the Portuguese but apparently that was a mistake. I kind of liked it, it reminded me of Mean Streets, where the audience has to work and sometimes you don’t “get” everything that’s going on but that’s okay.
There were some plot holes in the movie that bothered me a little as someone who does like psychological thrillers and wanted everything to be air tight. How did the woman (blind & without a voice box) communicate correctly to the police where the barn was? Why didn’t the father call the police in the beginning when his wife was murdered in front of his daughter? (That one I kind of figured out in the talk back- they’re just supposed to be really isolated/only rely on each other/be understood to be very insular) How did Francisca pay to keep the electricity on if she didn’t have a job? Where did she get the matching white lace bra and underwear she’s wearing under her sheer nightgown when she murders Charlie in the field? Does she eat the bodies after she packages them up and put them in the refrigerator? If not where does she get the money to buy food?
There’s a lot of those kinds of questions I have and I’m fine with things being unanswered/not the focus but I would like my movies to be thought through enough to at least have embedded hints to answers ya know?
While I was watching the movie I had a lot of “what the fuck” moments, where something just seemed unnecessarily violent just for violence’s sake. (And not the actual depiction of violence, because a lot of it was offscreen, but more so the plot points that relied on the knowledge of the violence). But when looking at the totality of the film and hearing the talk back I feel more centered in it’s purpose. I think a lot of the dad stuff didn’t need to be there? I wish it would have been witnessing her mom’s murder, normal-ish life with dad with some weird tendencies, then dad’s death (killed or otherwise) and then some psychological behavioral pattern stuff. I felt like there was a little too much being tackled and the movie felt slightly gratuitous and a little overwhelmed with plot/content.
Three out of seven severed cow’s heads, would potentially masturbate again if my boyfriend wanted to see it.