Goodnight Mommy Movie Review
Written by Ted McCarthy
Released by Radius TWC
Written and directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz
2015, 99 minutes, Rated R
Susanne Wuest as Die Mutter (The Mother)
Elias Schwarz as Elias
Lukas Schwarz as Lukas
The bonds between sons and mothers are unlike any other – different from the ones we have with our fathers, our spouses, our siblings, and our closest friends. Whatever our relationships become later in life, we owe literally every fiber of our physical beings to our moms, and likely looked most to her for love and support throughout our formative years (I'm 31, and still can't go more than a few days without talking to my mom on the phone). Even the biggest, toughest, most badass dude you ever met once ran crying into the arms of his mother for comfort. To suddenly have that sense of love and warmth pulled out from under you and replaced with cynicism and a possible desire to do you harm is a very scary prospect for a son, and that's where the chills come from in Goodnight Mommy.
On a hot summer day, twin brothers Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) welcome their mother (Susanne Wuest) back to their secluded countryside home from what is implied to be a long stint at the hospital, where she underwent some serious plastic surgery. Barely showing more than her eyes and lips from beneath her bandages, their mother says that there will be some changes around the house to aid in her recovery: all the window blinds are to be drawn, there is to be no noise indoors, and there are to be no visitors. As the days pass and the mother's behavior becomes increasingly irritable and erratic, the boys start to question whether it is really their mom who has returned to them.
The film is expertly crafted in almost every way, both in front of and behind the camera, and is all the more impressive knowing that so many of the players are first-timers. It's an audacious first feature for co-writers/directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, who I don't doubt will soon be tapped for an American project.
A film with as few characters as this one will live or die by its actors, and the three main performers here are consistently amazing. As the mother (or whoever she might be), Susanne Wuest is very creepy, oozing menace while spending about half the film either wrapped in bandages or facing away from the camera. And I can't heap enough praise on twin actors Elias and Lukas Schwarz as the terrified sons. Their performances are phenomenal. At times I did struggle to tell them apart (which smartly becomes a plot element in the film's second act), but there was always something heartwarming about watching their brotherly bond, even amidst the growing terror of the situation they find themselves in.
I've seen a lot of other reviews talk about what a difficult watch it is, not because of the pacing, but because of the grisly levels of depravity that this film sinks to. Maybe I've been around the horror block a few more times than your average reviewer, but with the exception of one or two admittedly wince-inducing shots, the action and violence is very restrained. In this way I saw some similarities to Miike's Audition, which is also erroneously hyped as an extreme torture show.
*POSSIBLE MINOR SPOILER*
Then there's the twist. A solid twist can make a mediocre movie good (Saw, Sleepaway Camp), a good movie great (Dead and Buried, Fallen), and a great movie phenomenal (Se7en, The Usual Suspects). Sometimes, though, you get a plot twist or revelation that completely tanks a film, potentially undoing everything enjoyable that came before it (High Tension, any post-Unbreakable M. Night Shyamalan film). The twist ending in Goodnight Mommy wasn't of the bed-sharting variety, but it did remind me of High Tension's infamous third-act Hershey squirt in its pointlessness. Up to that point, about ten minutes before the end, the film was pretty masterful. But its "ah-HA!" revelation seemed to me like a freshman filmmaker trying to be too clever for his or her own good (much like Alexandre Aja with High Tension), and not being confident enough in their already impressive production. That's not to say that the twist doesn't work on some levels within the context of the story, because I'll concede that it does. But it's a climactic reveal we've seen far too many times before, and it actually gave me far more puzzling questions than satisfying answers.
*END POSSIBLE MINOR SPOILER*
While the familiarity of the final twist is keeping it from being an instant classic for me, the film is still constantly engaging for those looking for a solid, creepy thriller and who value acting and atmosphere over blood and guts. There was a lot that I wanted to talk about after this movie was over, but for the sake of keeping this spoiler-free for our readers who haven't seen it, I'll just say it's well worth seeing, and it has renewed my hope for the rest of what has been a pretty lackluster year in horror so far.