Following positive word from festivals and posters that promise nightmares, we’ve been excited about Austrian horror Goodnight Mommy for a while now. Having seen it, we can tell you that it’s just as gripping and upsetting as you’d been led to believe.
Newcomers Lukas and Elias Schwarz play identical twins Lukas and Elias, who have been alone at their idyllic forest house while their mother (Susanne Wuest) has been undergoing surgery. When she returns swathed in bandages, they’re unsettled. She seems colder, crueller and more ill-tempered. Is this really the same woman who went away?
Filmmaking duo Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz have delivered something very impressive. It’s atmospheric, as the cool, unpredictable feel inside the house contrasts with the summer heat. Glimpses of jars teeming with cockroaches and eerie walks in the woods are jarring when placed next to moments of fraternal affection between the boys, while the mother watches from behind her bandages. There’s one very obvious division in this triangle that’s hinted at early and often, but the film doesn’t suffer.
Although much of the conversation will be about how it’s hard to watch, Fiala and Franz aren’t limited to shock value. With its young characters coming to a conclusion that feels logical to them and taking horrifying action, Goodnight Mommy owes as much to dark fairy-tale films like The Reflecting Skin as it does to Funny Games. With its dark caves, endless trees and burning fields, the location is loaded with symbolism and the filmmakers expertly add it to their palette.
The deliberate pacing and moments of cruelty might give the impression of a cold-hearted film, but the significance of what the children are doing and how this situation has been able to manifest is as frightening as the glimpses of visceral bloodshed. This is a potent and disturbing nightmare, with flawless performances and a rich imagination behind its grim façade.04