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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Review: “Goodnight Mommy” is truly terrifying

    I first became aware of Austrian horror film “Goodnight Mommy” (“Ich seh, Ich seh”) when a friend on Facebook tagged me in a comment, wondering if I was going to review it. The movie finds itself in the same contemporary company as “The Babadook” and “It Follows;” horror movies whose arresting trailers and hype become retweeted and shared. 

    For “The Babadook,” William Friedkin, director of seminal horror “The Exorcist,” tweeted that he had “never seen a more terrifying film…,” while the viral blurb swirling around “Goodnight Mommy” was that two people fainted during a screening. No other genre can elicit the unique anxiety-filled buzz of horror, where watching a trailer with friends can almost feel like a taboo experience you’re all partaking in. If a horror movie’s supposed to be good, it’s also supposed to legitimately scare you.

    Much like “The Babadook,” whose trailer presented a different film than the one that was shown, so too, does “Goodnight Mommy” differ from advertisement to feature. That’s not a knock on quality.

    Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwartz), 10-year-old twins, are inseparable. Like kids that age, they explore with a fearless, innocent curiosity, roaming the lakeside woods. Even when they stumble upon a catacomb with skulls strewn about, they walk among the bones as if they were any other rocks. Maybe grave spelunking is common among the Austrian youth, and we Americans should stop coddling our young.

    Their mother (Susanne Wuest) returns home after having major cosmetic facial surgery. Her head is swathed in white bandages, leaving little other than her bruised eyes and mouth visible. When the twins, and the audience, first see her at a distance in a dimly lit bedroom, she looks like a post-op Joker—alien and evil.
    There are no jump scares; simply looking at her visage is enough to make you squirm.To the twins, not only does she not look like their mother, but she acts nothing like her, too. Before the surgery, their mother was loving; this entity that has now taken residence in their home is severe. 

    Directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala keep the twins’ perspective front and center for the first half of the movie. The audience shares their conviction and suspicion.Then, roughly halfway through, the filmmakers do something very curious and very effective: the perspective and sympathies start to shift. At first, it’s just a glimpse of the bandaged mother crying alone in her room, hurt that her boys don’t trust her. Then, the bandages come off, revealing a beautiful, seemingly good-natured woman. This is the part of the film that the trailer never alludes to.

    But the boys still don’t buy it and they start taking drastic measures. They tie down this imposter to the bed, and begin interrogating her. As interrogations tend to go, it escalates into torture. When the boys glue their mother’s lips shut, it’s more gruesome and horrifying than the mom’s bandaged face ever was. The boys, who previously garnered our sympathy, have now transformed into the monsters. There’s a wide shot where their mother is trying to escape the house, and she runs through the hallway under the stairs. At the top of the staircase are the twins, looking down on her. The framing makes them out to be diminutive slasher villains, stalking their prey. It’s all building to something, and this ‘something’ is a twist in the film’s climax. The revelation caught me by total surprise, yet both of the two moviegoers I saw the film with knew it was coming. 

    In hindsight, there are certainly a myriad of clues; I take consolation that one of the co-director’s own mothers still doesn’t know the twist after repeat viewings. Though foregrounding of the twist is certainly layered throughout the narrative, the reveal detracts from everything that precedes it by introducing a superfluous element to the simple premise of the changing relationship and perception between children and mother. 

    As our young boys transform from heroes to nightmares, “Goodnight Mommy” becomes incredibly scary and incredibly gripping. The final twist, though, opens up an unnecessary can of worms, or rather, Madagascar hissing cockroaches.


    Follow Alex Guyton on Twitter

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