Nick Pesce Talks The Eyes of My Mother
Once or twice a year – and more often than that, lately – a horror movie comes along that gets fans’ attention. The Eyes of My Mother, a black and white chiller reminiscent of a Bergman film, is doing just that. It’s a dour, disturbing cinematic journey that’s not always fun to watch. In fact, one critic stated, “The Eyes of My Mother just might be the gloomiest horror movie ever made.”
The man behind all the doom and gloom is Nick Pesce, who makes his feature debut with the story of Francisca, a disturbed young woman living all alone on a secluded farm. It’s playing at festivals now, but will soon be out for a limited engagement. We caught up with Nick to ask him where he got the idea and where he sees the film going as it’s released for everyone to see.
Dread Central: The Eyes of My Mother is generally liked by hardcore cinephiles, but it is a little divisive, as you see when you read the reviews. Is that good for you?
Nick Pesce: Definitely. I feel like if you’re going to make a horror movie, I think that as a fan myself, whether it’s superficial or not, that there’s an intensity barometer I expect when going into a horror movie, the higher the anxiety the better.
DC: Kika Maglathes as Francisca really makes one feel that anxiety. In a way, she’s key to the whole thing working. What made you think of her for this role?
NP: I’d worked with her on a music video and I knew I was writing the role for her, so every draft I’d sit with her and we’d go through it and talk about the character and try and cater it for her. Probably the biggest contribution she brought was the Portuguese aspect. I knew she was going to be playing Francisca and we talked about the idea of her using her native language. In real life, it’s a connection that she has with her mother and it’s a beautiful language but also it literally made her character different from everyone else around her. There was a lot of cultural stuff that she brought, because she had gone to Portugal a couple of weeks before we began shooting, she was visiting her mom, and she came back and said, My mom was just listening to Amália Rodrigues. And I listened to it and it was like, Oh. my god, this would be amazing for the movie. So, there’s a lot of her little nuances in the movie that made their way into the character.
DC: Black and white cinematography can be gorgeous, but it’s risky to use it. What was the tipping point for you in that decision?
NP: You know, I think that a lot of it was right when I was conceiving this, there were all these other more interesting horror movies coming out like It Follows and The Babadook. They aren’t in black and white, but there’s that feel and I was seeing people were paying homage to sections of horror I hadn’t seen in a long time… but I still wasn’t seeing the movies I loved represented in there. I grew up watching 1950s and 60s gothic horror films, anything with Vincent Price, Bette Davis, Strait-Jacket with Joan Crawford, and all that stuff. For me that’s what a horror movie is, a character drama, character study that sort of uses a horror film as a tactic to heighten the tension. I think a lot of audiences now think black and white is boring and hard to watch but these movies are visually stunning and really use the black and white to do something beautiful and expressionistic. There are also moody and build the suspense with the shadows. I wanted to do a more elegant take on black and white, a stronger look and a very specific style that was still visually interesting. I think that black and white done well is even more interesting than color and you have a flexibility in lighting that you don’t have in color which made those gothic and film noir movies what they were.
DC: That’s true. Some movies need color – could you imagine Suspiria in black and white? – and others, like yours, needs a monochromatic style.
NP: Yeah, it would be doing a disservice to the atmosphere. I think years ago it was an easier choice. I think that it’s silly that we still don’t make that choice because black and white does so much to the emotional tone of some films.
DC: Your movie wouldn’t look as good as it does without your amazing DP, Zach Kuperstein. Since not every DP knows how to shoot properly in black and white, how’d you connect with him?
NP: He was my roommate in freshman year of college and he shot everything that I made during film school. When I graduated, he did every music video I shot and we’ve just worked together for so long and we have such a short hand that it was an easy collaboration.
DC: Disturbing and shocking as it is, I’m not sure I’d call The Eyes of My Mother a straight-up horror movie.
NP: Yeah, I think I feel the same way. I think there is potential for non-horror fans to find this and find something charming and emotional in it. I think there’s something in there for horror fans who just want a really fucked up dark movie. The audience I made it for, I always think of myself, home alone at night seeing my first David Lynch movie that I rented from the video store, feeling so weird and not knowing why, and going to my friends the next day at school and saying: Oh, my god, you have to watch this movie, it’s crazy. It’s a very specific kid who’s going to find this movie on iTunes and watch it late at night and tell all their friends and be excited because they found this subversive-feeling, weird take on a horror movie. That’s the weirdo I made it for, because that’s who I was.
The Eyes of My Mother, from writer/director Nicolas Pesce, is getting a limited theatrical and VOD release on December 2nd. Kika Magalhães, Will Brill, Flora Diaz, Paul Nazak, Clara Wong, Diana Agostini, and Olivia Bond star.
In their secluded farmhouse, a mother, formerly a surgeon in Portugal, teaches her daughter, Francisca, to understand anatomy and be unfazed by death. One afternoon, a mysterious visitor shatters the idyll of Francisca’s family life, deeply traumatizing the young girl, but also awakening unique curiosities. Though she clings to her increasingly reticent father, Francisca’s loneliness and scarred nature converge years later when her longing to connect with the world around her takes on a dark form.
Shot in crisp black and white, the haunting visual compositions evoke its protagonist’s isolation and illuminate her deeply unbalanced worldview. Genre-inflected, but so strikingly unique as to defy categorization, writer/director Nicolas Pesce’s feature debut allows only an elliptical presence in Francisca’s world, guiding our imaginations to follow her into peculiar, secret places.