Tag Archives: violent

Review – Goodnight Mommy (15) [2016]

Goodnight Mommy - title banner

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

Music Composer:

  • 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.

The modern, art-deco Austrian countryside, next to a lake, a cornfield and a forest. How could something so tranquil feel so ominous?

The modern, art-deco Austrian countryside, next to a lake, a cornfield and a forest. How could something so tranquil feel so ominous?

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.

The dorable twins, Elias and Lukas, entering into their mother's room... where they shouldn't be entering.

The dorable twins, Elias and Lukas, entering into their mother’s room… where they shouldn’t be entering.

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.

The mother (Susanne Wuest), her face bandaged up, but for her piercing blue eyes, looking outside creepily to see what her sons are up to.

The mother (Susanne Wuest), her face bandaged up, but for her piercing blue eyes, looking outside creepily to see what her sons are up to.

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.

PG’s Tips

Review – Trance (15) [2013]

Trance - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5



Music Composer:

  • Rick Smith – Breaking and Entering

Psychological thrillers, by their nature, are puzzling and mess with one’s mind. Inception, Shutter Island and Black Swan all did this with varying levels of charm, appeal and success. Danny Boyle’s impressive and sexy Trance adds something new to this testing sub-genre.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

Simon (James McAvoy), unconscious after being bashed on the head by a batton. As a result, he cannot remember what he did with the painting.

  Trance centres round Simon (James McAvoy), who works for a London-based company that auctions expensive paintings. The company has a security system in place to prevent the paintings from getting stolen, and Simon is part of the system.

However, when Franck (Vincent Cassel) leads a gang to steal a precious painting during an auction, the painting disappears. Simon, the last person to have handled the painting before its disappearance, was smacked on the head while he removed the painting. Since then, he has developed amnesia and so he can’t remember where he put the painting. In a desperate bid to find the painting, Franck decides that Simon must go to Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson), a hypnotherapist. Elizabeth believes that by hypnotising Simon, she can get him to recollect the location of the painting.

Trance’s plot is clever and innovative. The film is fast-paced from the off, intense, violent and engaging. It is complex and confusing too, since it constantly does back and forth in time, unravelling what happened to the painting as well as explaining the various (and sinister) motivations of the characters. Moreover, and similar to Black Swan, one is never sure in Trance when one is watching reality or a dream (or a memory or a possible memory). All of this keeps viewers firmly on their toes because no-one can be sure as to where the film is going.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Simon undergoing hypnotherapy with Dr. Elizabeth Lamb (Rosario Dawson) in an attempt to regain his memory regarding the painting.

Although, it is dubious as to whether Trance’s storyline actually makes sense. Again, this is not novel to the sub-genre: it is uncertain whether the plots for The Machinist or Shutter Island added up (but no-one would argue that those were atrocities to cinema, like Sucker Punch or The Lady In the Water); while Fight Club and Inception demanded that one see them twice (at least) before being able to appreciate (or understand) those movies, and few had reason to complain about those excellent films either. Perhaps, the latter is true for Trance. However, there are some quite significant plot issues that could undermine the film and its realism (if one believes in the effectiveness of hypnotism/hypnotherapy, of course), but these are not going to be discussed here as they would spoil the thrill for those who haven’t seen the movie.

The force of Trance’s storyline is matched by the three main (and more or less only) cast members; James McAvoy in particular. Far from his relaxed demeanour as Charles Xavier/Professor X in X-Men: First-Class, his performance as Simon resembles that of his (brilliant but crazed) stage performance as MacBeth. Nothing illustrates this similitude more than the intensity in Simon’s bombardier blue eyes, as the hypnotherapy, combined with his own problems take effect on him.

Similarly, Vincent Cassel and Rosario Dawson play well, but not with the same power as McAvoy. As Franck, Cassel does a decent job as a shady, amoral character. Yet, it is hard to classify him as the villain here since there is no-one who is particularly good in Trance (some people are just much worse than others). But if one does view Franck as the main antagonist, then one may not feel entirely satisfied with Cassel’s performance because he does not possess the look or the flair to make himself a dangerous villain on screen, unlike the cunning Liam Neeson in Batman Begins/The Dark Knight Rises, or the terrifying Michal Zurawski in In Darkness, or the flamboyant Javier Bardem in Skyfall.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon's treatement, with his group of thugs alongside him to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

Franck (Vincent Cassel), furtherst right, keeping a worryingly close eye on Simon’s treatment, with his group of thugs at his side to illustrate the consequences for Simon if he fails to shake off his amnesia.

While as Elizabeth the hypnotherapist, the stunning Dawson wonderfully holds her patients (as well as the audience) under her spell, as if ravishingly embodying the psychological thrill of the movie and the sub-genre in one attempt.

Over-all, Trance is a mind-bending and gripping film that is a worthy addition to the sub-genre of psychological thrillers. The movie has its flaws, but to a limited extent these should be disregarded because Boyle’s film is original, appealing and stylish. Furthermore, like all noteworthy psychological thrillers, Trance takes one out of one’s comfort zone and, to its credit, keeps one in thought long after the film has ended.

PG’s Tips

Review – The Devil’s Double (18) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

It is common for dictators and those close to them to have doubles (look-alikes), so that they can be in two places at once. (Not to mention making it harder for their opponents to assassinate them). But what exactly do ‘doubles’ do with their days? Well, The Devil’s Double gives viewers a brutal hint.

Latif with Uday before he has some minor surgery. Thw two men bear a striking resemblance. After surgery, the two men could be identical twins.

The film is based on the true (but embellished) story of how Latif Yahia (Dominic Cooper – Tamara Drewe, Captain America: The First Avenger, My Week With Marilyn) became a look-alike for Uday Hussein (also Dominic Cooper), the son of Saddam Hussein, the President (dictator) of Iraq, 1979-2003. The film is set between the late-1980s (during the latter years of the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-88) and up to December 1996.

Latif bears a striking resemblance to Uday. After some nasty threats and lashes, Latif agrees to become Uday’s double. Subsequently, Latif, to his disgust (and knowing that he could be shot on a whim at any moment), enters into Uday’s world of sadism, debauchery, drugs and murder. At what point will the ‘nice guy’ Latif draw the line?

The Devil’s Double makes for some gripping, if horrific, viewing. But, most noticeably, the film does not have much of a storyline. More often than not, scene after scene is just Latif following Uday to witness the latter’s next appalling act. Surprisingly though, this does not make the film any less absorbing to watch.

Latif being punished for not initially agreeing to become Uday's double.

The key reason for the movie being so engrossing is Dominic Cooper. The choreography may be jerky; the music may sound cheap and not totally in sync with the scenes; and the women may look distinctly Western and non-Arabic. Yet, particularly as Uday, Cooper makes the audience feel that their money has not been wasted. As Uday, Cooper plays an insane (in the true sense of the word), volatile, spoilt brat with an insatiable appetite for alcohol, drugs, women (of all ages) and malice. In almost every scene, Uday appears drunk, high and unpredictable. Uday makes us feel uneasy every time he appears on screen, which is a testament to Cooper’s acting abilities.

There is no doubt that Cooper plays well as Uday. But his performance is not quite in the same league as Christian Bale’s in The Fighter. This is because in The Devil’s Double, Uday is not given a third dimension. Also, from the film, one has little idea what Uday’s upbringing was like, or what his relationship was like with his father (which was apparently not great) and mother (whom he was supposedly close to), amongst other things. This is a real pity, as this could have shown Uday in a chillingly human light, as opposed to the animal that he is portrayed to be throughout the movie.

Whilst as Uday, Cooper is impressive, he is less so as Latif. This might be because Latif is too nice and normal relative to Uday. Nevertheless, one does not feel much sympathy for Latif, or his predicament. In this respect, Cooper could have done better. Then again, just as Uday has not been given much depth, nor has Latif. This is not Cooper’s fault. Rather, it is the fault of the director, Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day, xXx 2: The Next Level, Next), who should have given his two main characters more depth, even at the expense of making the film a little longer. At only 106 minutes, he had the time to do this.

A common sight throughout the film - Uday holding a gun threateningly, with a girl (or two) around his waist. The girl here is Serrab (Ludivine Sagnier), supposedly his favourite.

Just as Uday and Latif lack complexity, so too do the other characters in The Devil’s Double, such as Munem (Raad Rawi – The Kingdom, Green Zone, Conan the Barbarian) and Kamel Hannah (Mem Ferda – Revolver, Legacy: Black Ops, Ill Manors), who are supposedly part of Saddam’s cruel regime. Too many of them, though, appear as ‘good guys in bad positions,’ which could not have been true. Repressive governments don’t exist because they’re packed with ‘good people’ under an ‘evil’ despot. Rather, they survive because they’re filled with murderous psychopaths, who are given positions to abuse (until they become victims of the system, of course). By doing this, Tamahori shamefully forsakes the chance to illustrate the true realities of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to the detriment of the movie.

All-in-all, The Devil’s Double may be crude and the epitome of its own title, but it gives us a glimpse of what life as a double to a nasty, sadistic individual could be like. Almost by himself, Dominic Cooper, playing two very different people, makes this utterly brutal film worth watching. The Devil’s Double is not one for the feint-hearted, and will leave even the strongest of people feeling uncomfortable by the end.

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