Mumblegore is a relatively new term that has blossomed with the low budget, yet character-driven, indie horror films that have been released in the past decade. It was born out of the Mumblecore genre, introduced in 2002 with films such as Funny HA HA (2002) by Andrew Bujalski and Puffy Chair (2005) by the Duplass Brothers.
Mumblegore takes that genre into the realm of horror, with films such as You’re Next (2011), The Sacrament (2013), and V/H/S (2012) as prime examples. Due to lower budgets and almost no studio pressure, these films are much more experimental. A few directors and writers have been credited with the birth and rise of this strange subgenre. Adam Wingard (You’re Next, V/H/S), Joe Swanberg (V/H/S), and Ti West (House of the Devil, The Sacrament) are just a few of the people working to create strange yet terrifying stories that push the boundaries of horror.
I want to expand the definition, which is my goal with this column. I will try to venture outside of those well-known directors and scour the corners of the Internet to expand the idea of Mumblegore.
“This killer is searching for love, affirmation, and importance. But she searches for it in all the wrong ways.”
So often in horror movies, serial killers are men who kill mercilessly and seemingly at random. They are chaotic and quick, oftentimes taking their victims’ lives quickly but violently with the stab of a knife. Think Michael Meyers, Art the Clown, and Freddy Krueger. But what about female serial killers? How do they kill differently? Why do they kill differently? Nicolas Pesce (Piercing, The Grudge) examines these questions in his 2016 black-and-white Mumblegore film, The Eyes Of My Mother.
The Eyes Of My Mother is split into three parts, all of which focus on Francisca (Kika Magalhaes), a young girl growing up with her family on a secluded farm. Each part of The Eyes Of My Mother showcases how Francisca slips deeper and deeper into a psychosis brought on by intense trauma at a young age. She does not just snap one day and decide to go on a murderous rampage, as seen in typical male serial killers. Rather, Pesce shows Francisca’s obsession with violence and care through agonizing scenes of torture that last multiple years. This killer is searching for love, affirmation, and importance. But she searches for it in all the wrong ways.
The first part of the film, “Mother,” establishes Francisca’s relationship with her mother as a child. Her mother was a former eye surgeon, so she teaches her daughter how to be around the abject body. They are close, with Francisca very obviously idolizing her mother. She learns the ways of quick incisions, wound care, and compassion. But tragedy suddenly and violently strikes when her mother is murdered by a stranger named Charlie (Will Brill). Her father comes home to the bloody scene and, instead of calling the police, chains the killer up in the barn. He then employs Francisca to help bury her mother.
It is at this moment that we witness Francisca conflate love with violence. The best way for her to show love and affection, it seems, is through pain. She is emotionally frozen at a young age after not only witnessing her mother’s murder, but also after assisting her father in concealing the crime. In trying to cope with this sudden and horrific trauma, she turns to what her mother taught her: surgery and nurturing. She removes Charlie’s eyes and vocal cords, storing them neatly in the fridge after she tends to his fresh wounds. She then tells her father she loves him and wants him to say it back.
“It is fascinating to place The Eyes Of My Mother in comparison to other serial killer movies. While on a small budget, Pesce is able to tell the story of a serial killer in a wholly unique and utterly disturbing way.“
Francisca requires constant affirmations of love, which is why, in the second part of the film titled “Father,” she begins to unravel. Her father has died and she is lost; who will dance with her and tell her he loves her? She turns to dates with strangers, but that quickly devolves when she’s too honest with her date. These dates, of course, end in violence. So, she then turns to Charlie, who remains locked in the barn. Perhaps it’s time to play house with the family prisoner. But when he escapes, she realizes her love for murder after she recaptures her prisoner.
At this point, Francisca has looked for love from her parents and from lovers. Each instance of love is short-lived, ephemeral. So, in part 3, “Family,” Francisca turns to motherhood not through pregnancy, but through theft. She steals a baby and imprisons his mother in the barn. Again, she removes the mother’s eyes and vocal cords, rendering the woman into a trapped animal who must rely on buckets of slop for sustenance. Even in discovering motherhood, Francisca cannot let go of the need to care for a totally helpless being. Perhaps it is out of guilt, perhaps it is out of selfishness, perhaps it is purely out of habit. Regardless, Francisca relies on torture to feel complete.
It is fascinating to place The Eyes Of My Mother in comparison to other serial killer movies. While on a small budget, Pesce is able to tell the story of a serial killer in a wholly unique and utterly disturbing way. There is no desire to rack up a high kill count and titillate viewers with piles of gore and practical effects. Moments of gore seem gorgeous in through a monochromatic lens; without the vibrant red of blood, the violence doesn’t feel real.
Further, Pesce wishes us to inhabit the mind of Francisca and witness something much deeper and upsetting than the typical horror movie murder. He wants us to potentially sympathize or at least empathize with this killer. We are given access to her perspective, her desires for love and her motivations, which is perhaps more terrifying than the deaths themselves. In having the audience understand Francisca’s trauma and focusing on her perspective, rather than her victims, Pesce creates an almost itchy tension between inhabiting a killer’s mental state and being repulsed by her actions.
“In having the audience understand Francisca’s trauma and focusing on her perspective, rather than her victims, Pesce creates an almost itchy tension between inhabiting a killer’s mental state and being repulsed by her actions.”
The Eyes Of My Mother is a black-and-white piece of art that gets under your skin and can’t be cut out. It is a Southern-gothic taken to its extreme. The female serial killer, in the eyes of Nicolas Pesce, is something terrifying, one that searches for love not through rage-fueled death but through delusional torture. She is methodical and focused, never in a rush. She seems to suffer from a deep level of trauma-induced psychosis. She has been a sociopath from a young age. She is fascinating and she is terrifying. The Eyes of My Mother examines a new kind of killer through the lens of trauma and takes the time to dissect her brain; this isn’t a film about sensationalism but about disturbing understanding, an understanding that is deeply uncomfortable.
The Eyes of My Mother is streaming on Netflix. What did you think of this film? Who is your favorite female serial killer? Sound off on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club.