Goodnight Mommy drops us right into the middle of a paranoid nightmare between siblings Elias and Lukas (real life twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz) and their mother, (Susanne Wuest). Mother has just come back from a facial reconstruction surgery, and her new perceived change in attitude strikes the boys odd. They soon believe this woman to be an impostor. The family lives on the outskirts of town, in a very nice house, that is secluded by a wooded area. This is where the majority of the film takes place and where the power play between the three will take place. The isolation of the family is part of the tension; there isn’t going to be little chance of any help for them. Since we’re dropped in this world at the time of the mother’s return, we’ve no way of knowing what she was like before the accident and if the children are letting their imagination get the better of them. The film keeps the questions coming and ratcheting up the tension before the big, soul-crushing, reveal at the end.
Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz direct a very taut flim. Even when nothing essentially scary is happening, the threat of violence is palpable. All encounters between the family, themselves, and the outside world has a strong sense of menace to it. The Schwarz twins give an admirable performance for child actors. Goodnight Mommy calls for them to be by turns innocent and sinister while still maintaining the audience sympathy through it all. Susanne Wuest gives a tour-de-force as the nightmare matriarch whose character arch peels away bits of her personality very slowly until the denouement. There is a part in the film involving Red Cross volunteers stopping by that brings the film down, but this may be more of a cultural issue than an actual valid complaint; it still seems oddly placed.
The closest thing I can liken this film to is Micheal Hanke’s Funny Games, which I hate to do because that movie is mean-spirited garbage for the sake of it. Goodnight Mommy is no less mean-spirited, but it’s cruelty serves the story, not because the director wants to subject his characters and audience to increasing degradation because he’s an asshole. That said, the ending of Goodnight Mommy breaks the fourth wall and seems like the directors are giving a cinematic middle finger to the audience. I’ll forgive them this slight because of the work that came before. This is a film that will stick with me for a while and though I don’t ever want to see it again, I do want others to, if only to have someone to discuss the experience with. After we left the film, my fiancee and I spoke a bit about a couple theories about the family’s history (not everything is spelled out) and we both had different outlooks on this issue and the identity of the mother. Despite some missteps, this is a solid thriller. Check it out.
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