Nothing as it seems in Austrian arthouse horror Goodnight Mommy.
When it comes to the antagonist or a monster in a movie we gradually learn how to adapt then hopefully defeat them in that final battle. What if that monster is someone who in the eyes of a child is truly angelic …your Mother! When your own children don’t believe you are their mother who deserves sympathy? You and if she is not their mother who is she then?
After creating a fantastic buzz during its film festival circuit worldwide in 2015 Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz‘s debut directorial feature finally arrives in the UK. Nurturing an unsettling tale that feels that’s been taken right out of the pages of a Michael Haneke chiller.
Goodnight Mommy (or ich Seh, Ich Seh / I See, I See) we find ourselves in the heat of the summer identical twins Lukas & Elisa (real-life twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz)doing what boys do best playing having fun. At one point the boys were alone in a lonesome house in the middle of a forest until their mother Susanne Weust) returned home. Bandaged thanks to cosmetic surgery she needs her rest and before they could say anything she laid down ground rules so that she could regain fuller recovery in peace.
Once again the boys are left on their own forced to make their own entertainment but at the displeasure of their mum, she becomes more aggressive, cold, calculated. After feeling her wraith the twins start to doubt the woman they are calling mama may not be their ‘mama’.
Goodnight Mommy is a dark, twisted atmospheric chiller that plays on your sympathies as if it was like a yo-yo. From the twins back to their ‘mum’ then back again you will feel manipulated throughout the film, which leaves clues to challenge you to pick a side and figure out what exactly happened. You ask yourself if the cosmetic surgery was for personal reasons or something involuntary. Surgery can emotionally change a person and with the boys been young (9 or 10 years old) it would be hard for them to understand. Not realizing the protection of their mother’s protection might be non-existent now, but surgery has changed everything.
The twins mum does seem to stay in darkness in her room a lot of the time and when she does leave the confines of her room she seems to adopt a Jekyll & Hyde persona that seems to terrorize them. The question is where is their father? The film plays on the allegory of lack of a father figure or any parental figure, his mother truly responsible for the father not been in their lives? Is she really a monster? When punishing her boys for minor things and a scene which she goes to the forest undressing again at night teases the monster theory might be vampiric.
As for calling Goodnight Mommy as a full-of horror would be a wrong judgement. The film is slow, brooding that builds into a visceral nightmarish ending which does fit nicely into the film’s Horror tag. When we finally start to put the pieces of the jigsaw together outcome that manifests will leave you uncomfortable maybe even a little squeamish.
Fiala and Franz have crafted a wonderfully disturbing film that builds on your fears, paranoia right until the end. If you where eagle eyed there are little clues woven into the narrative playing on the demonic mother versus angelic kids and vice versa. It could easily be on the parental responsibility in the child’s upbringing, it’s existential story too.
Goodnight Mommy may not be an horror in the traditional sense, it’s disturbing film that owes much to films like Funny Games, The Shinning, The Reflecting Skin and Eyes Without A Face, which gives you an idea what type of film you will be watching.
Drama, Thriller, World Cinema | Austria, 2015 | 18 | Vertigo Films | 4th March 2016 (UK) | Dir. Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz | Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Susanne Wuest