Star Rating: 4/5
- Severin Fiala – Kern
- Veronika Franz – Kern
- Susanne Wuest – Antares, Thank You Mr President, Judas Goat, A Cure For Wellness
- Elias Schwarz
- Lukas Schwarz
- Olga Neuwirth – The Long Rain, Erik(A), Kill Daddy Good Night
Since the turn of the century, the horror genre has been dominated by the ‘found-footage’ and the paranormal subgenres. Seemingly, film-makers have often forgotten how to make horror films devoid of hand held cameras and/or ghosts going boo to scare audiences, with a couple notable exceptions (The Babadook and The Gift). Well, like those two exceptions, the Austrian film Goodnight Mommy gives viewers a different type of horror film.
Goodnight Mommy is about nine-year-old twins, Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) and their mother (Susanne Wuest), who are on summer holiday in their modern, country retreat in the Austrian countryside. The twin’s mother has had some cosmetic surgery done to her face and wears bandages to conceal all but her eyes.
However, she starts to act in strange and increasingly erratic ways. Apparently, she was never like this before and the twins begin to suspect that this woman may not be their mother at all…
Goodnight Mommy is a horror film in the true sense. It is enigmatic, thought-provoking, violent and tense, sucking viewers deeper and deeper into the odd circumstances surrounding the three main characters. Some kind of trauma has happened, that is obvious. But what is it? Where is the father? And why does the mother only speak to Elias and not to Lukas?
The film has an art-house feel to it since it does not rely on jump scares (i.e. quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet, BANG!) to frighten audiences. Rather, Goodnight Mommy relies on silence, atmosphere and the elements to create a genuinely tense and unnerving experience for the entirety of its 100-minute running time. Never has a kid turning on a tap or a mother munching on a biscuit been so quiver-inducing before. It is quite astonishing that the directors, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, manage to maintain this level of terror and tension when so little happens for much of the movie.
Central to their success is the setting. The remoteness of the countryside retreat, with its lake, forest and corn fields gives the film a naturally ominous feel. The weird, hazy pictures of the mother that adorn the walls in the house add creepiness to the already ominous setting. It must also be noted that film has been shot in 35mm camera and with stunning precision, capturing the gorgeously haunting nature of the location.
Nevertheless, Goodnight Mommy could have gone the same way as It Follows had it not been for the strong performances by the three main cast members. The mother, played with wonderful sincerity by Susanne Wuest, comes across as strict, strange, cold and vulnerable all at once, with a regal blue-eyed glare to give her petrifying edge. In contrast, the twins come across as normal, active cherubs who are always playing together, while being forced to live under the pressure of their OCD, disciplinarian mother.
However, aspects of the twin’s behaviour are enough to raise brows. This makes viewers question whether there is more to them than meets the eye. Whenever one sees twins in horror films, one is subconsciously reminded of the creepy twins in The Shining, and that raises further suspicions about Elias and Lukas here. That Goodnight Mommy has (unfair) comparisons with Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (due to both being Austrian horror films) ensures that viewers are constantly wondering what the twins are going to do next. And how unsettling it will be when they do.
Goodnight Mommy’s ability to keep viewers guessing is part of the film’s appeal and its chief asset. Yet, this also leads to its chief flaws. For one, the opening sequence has no bearing on the rest of the film when it seems like it is a scene from somewhere in the middle of it. This is puzzling. Also, there is a lot of ambiguity within the movie, some which are not properly explained while others are never explained at all. Again this is puzzling.
All-in-all, Goodnight Mommy is a terrific and genuinely scary horror film. The movie employs no jump scares or hand-held footage or phantoms. Rather, it skilfully trusts in its setting and in the circumstances that the three main protagonists find themselves in to induce tension and terror into viewers. The movie is not perfect. But it is unnerving and disturbing. It is also tense, mysterious, violent and psychologically challenging. Thus, Goodnight Mommy is everything that horror film should be and certainly worth a watch.