Goodnight Mommy (2014, 99 mins.)
Moody twins, cornfields, and an isolated house in the countryside are all ingredients for instant terror in my eyes. I found it all in Goodnight Mommy, the 2014 Austrian horror that wowed audiences for its disturbing visuals and spiralling story.
Twins Elias and Lukas have to reconnect with their mother after she returns home from extensive surgery. Her face is obscured by bandages and swollen features, and they are uncertain how to approach her as she seems distant and cold; forgetting sentimental details that make them suspicious. The boys question her identity, and what should have been an idyllic summer for them turns into a cat and mouse game of shifting realities and sanity as they set out with lethal determination to get their answer.
What this film gives you is precision in its beauty and visual detail. Each scene is so pleasing to the eye, so well-aligned that you drink in the settings before focusing on the action. The lush, almost Middle Earth feel to the surrounding forest gives the film an enchanted, fairy tale look, contrasted with the family’s modern and sleek Ikea-on-steroids home that serves as a prison of sorts. There is a ton of symbolic imagery from tunnels to blurred photographs and crucifixes; and obvious themes of beauty, decay (especially with the children’s odd choice of pets) and renewal, but they never get fully realized as the story takes fun house ride twists of what is real and what is imagined. I was also disappointed with a reveal that happens far too early in the film. One thing I enjoy with a horror film is the guess-work, and the mystery aspect was taken away with this one glaring detail.
There was some redemption with the cringe-worthy torture and body horror which worked well as the dynamics switched between mother and sons. It came hard and fast without lingering too long on excessive gore. Performance-wise, I kept thinking of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In as I watched. Like the characters in these films, mother and sons were all uncomfortably and, for a brief moment elusively, left of center, leaving you wondering what their next move would be. The harshness conveyed by Susanne Wuest as the mother and Elias and Lukas Schwarz as her calculating sons provided lots of tension and suspense.
To sum it up, I liked Goodnight Mommy. A lot. I just wanted more exploration, especially with the imagery that became a dead-end, and perhaps a touch more back story (for example, an answer to why the boys seem to be home alone when their mother returns from the hospital). What you will get from directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz is a beautifully filmed and creepy psychological/body horror that is worth a watch even though it lacked some clarity and streamlining.
Here is the Goodnight Mommy trailer that the masses were supposedly terrified over. I would say it is well crafted but misleading…