Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 39 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Disturbing Violent Content and some Nudity
(German with English subtitles)
Directed by: Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala
Written by: Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala
Starring: Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwartz & Lukas Schwartz
One of many horror films gracing the silver screen during 2015’s Halloween season, GOODNIGHT MOMMY is a nasty little gem from Austria. The trailer for this film recently made waves online in a similar fashion to last year’s THE BABADOOK. However, those looking for a supernatural film (as suggested by some of the marketing) had best look elsewhere. GOODNIGHT MOMMY is a frightening psychological horror film that suffers from a few flaws, but winds up being highly disturbing and creepy by the time the end credits start rolling.
Elias and Lukas are twin brothers living in an isolated country house. One day, their mother arrives home from an elaborate cosmetic surgery. As a result, her face is bandaged beyond any possible recognition and her behavior seems unusual. The twins begin to suspect that something may be seriously wrong with their mom and those suspicions are only heightened by their mother’s unhinged attitude towards Elias. Could this bandaged woman be an impostor? Or is there something seriously wrong with the psyches of Lukas and Elias? Either way, someone will be getting hurt and scares will ensue.
GOODNIGHT MOMMY has a brilliant premise of psychological horror. From the onset, you’re given clues for various possibilities of how this story might play out. A majority of the film takes place within the walls of an isolated house and there are only three main characters to speak of (with a few side roles that last one scene). As a result, the atmosphere relies heavily on tense interactions between the twins and the mother/possible impostor. The trio of cast members seem up to the task and deliver convincing performances. The beginning of this film suggests otherwise as it takes about 15 or 20 minutes before the story really starts picking up the pace. Once it finds its groove and goes with that, GOODNIGHT MOMMY becomes an intense horror flick.
As far as visuals go, the cinematography looks good and there are a couple of freaky nightmare sequences. However, much of the film relies on quiet suspense. It’s a slow burn with a number of brutal, cringe-worthy moments in the second half. I won’t say too much, but there were a couple of shots that got loud audience reactions from my theater. Not all is perfect though. As tense and dark as this story may be, I called one “surprise” revelation way in advance (within the first 10 minutes). I wasn’t the only one either as a few whispers from viewers behind me, comments from filmgoers exiting the theater, and a conversation with my film-loving friend proved that many viewers were also in on this plot development. It’s an overused horror cliché at this point and it does put a slight damper on the final minutes of an otherwise scary slow-burn. That being said, there’s a solid 30 minute chunk of this film that serves as the stuff of nightmares. First time filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (whose previous work consists of two shorts and a documentary) manage to make the viewer uncomfortable, even when we’re not seeing anything remotely bloody or violent on the screen. So while the ending might have been predictable, the film as a whole was scary.
I was initially bummed when GOODNIGHT MOMMY didn’t hit VOD outlets last month, which meant it was only arriving in small arthouse theaters. However, I would recommend going to see this if it hits a little indie theater near you. This is a horror flick that’s perfect for the Halloween season, especially with a reactive audience. GOODNIGHT MOMMY is a solid dose of foreign horror that shines in spite of a couple of flaws (e.g. snail-like pacing in the first 20 minutes and an easy-to-predict plot point). The performances are convincing from everyone and the cinematography is well-done. I imagine that those who don’t call the ending in advance will be kept on their toes throughout the entire film. Even if you do correctly predict where things are heading, it doesn’t lessen the impact of everything leading up to that point. The final third goes into disturbing territory that I wasn’t expecting at all. While parts of the story might be predictable and overly familiar, I would argue that what mainly matters in a horror film is how effective it is as a whole. GOODNIGHT MOMMY is dark, intense and very effective.