So I’ve been dedicating this weekend toward catching up on 2016 in horror, as I’ve been incredibly busy at work since November (this is why there’s been no new full-fledged reviews lately). I’ve watched The Autopsy of Jane Doe and Don’t Breathe, both of which were pretty good but not fantastic, and I’d give both a 3.5 out of 5. I then watched Under the Shadow, which was decent but not quite as good as I had hoped, earning a 3 out of 5. And then, unfortunately, I finished off the night with The Eyes of My Mother, which was so ungodly disappointing. This movie has a 76% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and has been considered one of the best horror movies of 2016 by critics and audiences, and I cannot for the life of me understand why. Yes, I know that all the “true horror buffs” are going to get up in my face and shout, “Oh, you just didn’t get it! You should stick to movies like The Forest and The Bye Bye Man! The only horror movies you like are ones with jumpscares, and you find slow-burn thrillers boring! The Eyes of My Mother is more than a movie; it’s a work of art!” SHUT UP AND LET ME EXPLAIN.
The plot: Francisca lives an isolated life. One day, a wandering entrepreneur killed her mother, but she and her father subdued him and locked him in their barn. Francisca cut out his eyes and vocal cords, and kept him in the barn for years. Her father died later in her life, so she preserved his body. Years pass. Francisca has sex with the imprisoned man in the barn. He tries to escape, so Francisca kills him. Francisca brings a lesbian Asian woman home and also locks her in the barn and cuts out her eyes and vocal cords. Francisca kidnaps a baby boy, murders his mother, and raises the baby as her own son. Years pass. The son discovers the woman in the barn and frees her. The woman escapes and the police swarm Francisca’s house. Francisca is killed by the police. There. That’s the plot. That’s it. That’s all. It takes seventy-six minutes to tell this story. A story this lean and short should take thirty or forty minutes at most.
This movie certainly seems to act like it’s an artsy movie because it’s in black and white, it looks like it was shot for a few thousand bucks, and because it moves along like…no, not molasses; that’s too fast. Personally, I think that the only reason that every scene is so ungodly slow, with ten-second pauses between every sparse line of dialogue, every character undertaking his or her actions in such a slow manner, and every shot lasting thirty seconds longer than it should, is because without those ungodly long pauses, the movie would only come out at about thirty minutes. It doesn’t help that the events in this movie were summed up in so little time.
But wait, isn’t that exactly what David Lynch did with Eraserhead? Not quite. Here’s why Eraserhead worked and this movie does not. As slow-paced as Eraserhead was, it at least told a story. It developed the character of Henry and made us sympathize with him. It explored various psychological and sexual themes. Things happened. It took us on an acid trip through surreal sequences, dark humor, erotic and terrifying imagery, blurring of the line between dreams and reality, oppressively claustrophobic atmosphere and crushing sense of isolation, black and white cinematography that actually looked and sounded like a movie from the fifties, and a metaphorical story about the fear of fatherhood. It was never boring. More so; it was actually really scary. In The Eyes of My Mother, there is only one theme: loneliness. It set out to portray the lonely life of Francisca, and oh boy, it does so, to excruciating levels. We sit through seventy-six minutes of Francisca’s mundane life, and despite the movie’s pathetically short length, it painstakingly shows us every facet of her life in agonizing detail. Nearly nothing happens until the final few minutes of the film. Worse, the movie shows no emotion toward Francisca. Is she a tragic character, forever lost in the eyes of any sane viewer? She did lose her parents earlier in life and inexplicably morphed into a psychopath because of it. Or is she just another human, another speck of dust on the wind? I don’t know, and that just makes the movie even more boring. It doesn’t help that the movie spends absolutely no time developing Francisca’s character. Then again, Francisca herself is a blank slate. There is nothing there in that brain of hers. Worse, there seems to be nothing in her life motivating her actions. It also doesn’t help that she rarely has any expression on her face other than bored, and her acting is only slightly better. I think she showed actual emotion maybe three, four or five times in this movie, for maybe a minute each time. I get the feeling that she wasn’t supposed to be a sympathetic character to begin with, but what else are we supposed to do rather than sympathize with a character? We never get anything to go on, and are never allowed to see what makes her tick. Why is this? This does not an interesting story make. Worse, all the other characters are either mute or barely in the movie. The characters are always supposed to be the main focus of the movie, and when a movie deliberately refuses to make itself character- or even story-driven, it completely falls apart. Why would the movie even think of making such a fatal decision? I don’t know; because…”art”, I guess.
And the movie as a whole looks and feels so ungodly monotonous. Not only is there absolutely nothing driving the plot forward, but the plot goes nowhere until the last two or three minutes, and the characters never evolve. Also, I know that this is supposed to be a horror movie, but there is nothing there that is actually scary. I know that this movie’s ability to elicit fear hinged on the allegedly graphic content and how Francisca processes the events around her, but there’s nothing there. The content isn’t even graphic; whenever something violent is about to happen, the movie just cuts past the potentially interesting events that could possibly wake the audience up. It cuts to the aftermath or cleanup of these events. Come on. Why was this how the movie handled its violence? Could it not afford it? Or was this decision made to be “artistic”? This just makes the movie look spastic and lazy.
Worse, rather than give us some nice cinematography, we instead get a black and white color scheme, eliminating this movie’s potential actual usage of color, painfully static and basic camerawork that at times forgets to use a tripod, and cheap sound design.
The ending. While the rest of the movie is painfully slow, the final scenes in the movie fly by so fast, wrapping up the movie in roughly two or three minutes. It might have been even shorter. This just makes the movie feel inconsistent. The ending feels like an afterthought; a footnote. It’s almost as if the movie almost forgot that it had to end.
Did critics and audiences and I watch the same movie? This movie has been showered with praise by both critics and audiences alike, and I cannot possibly understand why. I can cut the movie a little slack, as this is director Nicolas Pesce’s directorial debut, but raising my score from 0 to .5 out of 5 is all I can give.