In anticipation of the release of THE EYES OF MY MOTHER, which is scheduled for December 2 in select theaters and VOD from Magnet's Releasing, Shannon spoke with writer/director Nicolas Pesce about his haunting and unnerving Gothic tale, the beauty and effectiveness of black and white photography, and Pesce's love for the horror genre.
Shannon McGrew: Hi Nicolas, thank you so much for speaking with me today. I have to start by saying how much I loved THE EYES OF MY MOTHER and it’s one of my favorite films of the year. For those who haven't seen it or are not familiar with it could you tell us a little bit about it?
Nicolas Pesce: Sure! It’s about a girl who lives in the countryside and when she was young she witnessed the death of her mother and the film sort of tracks her as she grows older and we see her find her way into some distinctly dark curiosities. I’ll leave it at that as I think the movie is best seen not knowing a ton about it.
SM: I absolutely agree as I didn’t know much prior to seeing it. Not only did you direct this film, but you also wrote it, so what gave you the inspiration for this story?
NP: I think it started off as a love letter to my favorite section of horror films, the 1950’s and 60’s Gothic American horror stories. I guess what always appealed to me about them was that at the heart of it, it’s always a character study. You look at a film like PSYCHO, which clearly is a character study of Norman Bates, and the horror set pieces come out of these bigger moments where you see this character acting out. I wanted to take a character like that and explore more of the quiet moments in their life and explore the in-between of the crimes and how quiet and subtle that can be, while still leading you into this person. I think that exploring a character that wasn’t just good or bad, that you rooted for but were also afraid of but also understood, was something that was really interesting to me.
SM: One of the aspects of your film that I loved so much was that you had a strong female lead with actress Kika Magalhaes, something that isn't seen too often.
NP: Yeah, cause girls get the short end of the stick in horror movies!
SM: That’s right! I also loved that the film was done in black and white. In a way it made it a bit more terrifying. Did you always know you wanted the end result to be black and white?
NP: yeah, I mean I think black and white immediately puts you into a different frame of mind, especially when it comes to playing with shadows. The movie itself is just visually dark with a lot of shadows in the frame. It goes back to why those Vincent Price movies worked in the 50’s and 60’s, like the magic of the shadows and being able to use the film noir technique to heighten the tension. I think that so much of the film, from the color palette (or lack thereof), but also in the way we shot it, is about not letting you see everything and having you fill in the gaps yourself and think about what this world would really feel like. I think that tonally it does something unsettling to the viewer while also remaining visually stunning.
SM: I agree that the film is stunning and there’s something to be said about a film that can get under your skin without showing much and it’s something that isn’t seen as often anymore. I love that your imagination has to fill in the blanks and connect the dots. Since THE EYES OF MY MOTHER was your directorial debut, what was it like bringing this story to life?
NP: I had a blast, it was really amazing, and as dark as the subject matter was, we all had a really good time. I’m sure a lot of horror directors say the best way to combat the dark stuff is to have fun with it. I think that the hardest thing was just time. We shot the movie in 18 days and we finished so close to the Sundance deadline that we needed an extension and they gave me 21 days from wrapping the picture to cut the movie, so I ended up cutting the whole movie in 3 weeks. I would have loved more time but there was something kind of beautiful in not having a chance to second guess myself or overthink anything and I think that was a good thing.
SM: When it came to casting the roles, what was the process like? Did you have certain people in mind prior?
NP: I pretty much knew all the actors ahead of time, they were all friends of mine or I had worked with them before. I kind of wrote all the characters with them in mind knowing who I had in my wheelhouse and what they were good at. I catered the roles to them, especially Kika, who I had worked with on a music video months before even conceiving THE EYES OF MY MOTHER. As I started thinking about the movie I knew I wanted to use her as the lead, there was just something otherworldly and unique about her. I wrote the role for her and her there through all the various drafts of the script to talk everything through and really tailor it to her and I think that all of her hard work paid off.
SM: I would absolutely agree with you on that. Though this film is categorized as a horror movie, there seems to be a lot more going on underneath the surface such as loneliness, neglect, abandonment, loss, the search for love, etc. Is there anything you would like for the audience to take away from this film or do you like hearing what the audience comes up with?
NP: Well, I do love hearing the reactions (haha) but I think everything you said was right. To me, beyond all the horror stuff, this film is about loneliness and a girl who can’t cope with the loss of her parents. I think a lot of horror movies nowadays forget that the movie is supposed to be about something first and then scary. I look back to films like ROSEMARY’S BABY, there are only two scare scenes in that movie and the rest of it’s a drama about a woman who’s worried about her pregnancy. REPULSION, another Polanski film, was very inspiration in this, it’s like these are all movies with people going through things that everyone goes through and you just use horror to heighten everything and to make it poetically more intense. I think that first and foremost the film is a character study and a drama then all the horror stuff just helps it out.
SM: Once again, thank you so much for speaking to me today, I truly believe you have a masterpiece of a film, and I can't wait to see what you create next.