Starring Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz
Horror movies in 2015 have it rough, we get so much crap like those cheap and easy to produce “found footage” movies, so when we hear buzz about a foreign film in the horror genre, daring to offer up something different, interest in perked. Austrian filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala deliver something different for mainstream American horror fans, but if you study the genre outside America you are likely not to find anything impressive here. Actually the script isn’t as smart as it thinks it is, and gives away its big surprise in the first few minutes, especially if you are familiar with The Sixth Sense or The Others.
We find Lukas and his brother Elias playing in the field near their modern home in Austria. When they hear their mother arriving home, the boys, filthy, rush home to greet her. They find their mother (Wuest) wrapped in gauze from the neck up, indicating facial surgery. She asks Elias for good behavior, quiet and not to let anyone in the house. She also refuses to acknowledge Lukas when he speaks and only serves Elias food at the table. The boys become increasingly convinced that this new person in their house isn’t their real mother. They decide to trap mom in her bedroom and force her to prove her identity, when and if she refuses, the pre-teen boys turn to torture methods.
Never brave or audacious enough to really sick out the viewer.
The first 45 minutes of the film are mostly about character building but the questions the audience can answer very quickly, hoping there is a larger story at hand. You have to be a moron not to understand the concept that Lukas isn’t present physically. But the film never addresses the issue, as a smart viewer you begin to build what you think has happened, yet in this case it’s disappointing to be correct. It seems so simple and straightforward, I began to think maybe these guys are trying to trick us by being so obvious, but no, everything is exactly what you think. As foreign horror/disturbing films go, Goodnight Mommy gave me heavy Borgman (2013) feelings.
The film opens with us feeling sympathy for the children and their cold, indifferent mother, but it’s a seesaw effect as the script transitions, giving Elias and Lukas the power. There is never a moment where we feel Goodnight Mommy will end well. The opening moments are the happiest and it’s a downward spiral. It could be referred to as a torture film, but Goodnight Mommy is never brave or audacious enough to really sick out the viewer. As style goes, Goodnight Mommy is very specific, the narrative is light as a feather and often feels non-existent, yet once the film gets to “the good stuff” as horror fans might call it, it’s never worth the wait.
Filmmakers need to watch a few more outside mainstream horror films if they thought this was groundbreaking material.