Going from monsters to mothers might seem like a big step but, really, is there nothing scarier than being betrayed by the person who is supposed to love us most in the world? Moms have often been at the center of the horror genre, being the emotional core of the family and are, ironically, the most easily corrupted. But when that familial heart is transformed or, even worse, replaced by an imposter, the horror of having safe spaces infiltrated comes to life.
Let’s take a look at the Austrian tale of changing identities, Goodnight Mommy.
This entire review is filled to the brim with SPOILERS so beware!
Lukas and Elias are two precocious twin boys who greet their mother on her return from the hospital. Face covered in bandages and clearly in a bad mood, she proceeds to ignore one of the twins, Lukas, and sets strict rules about how the house is to be run. As the twins become convinced that the person under the bandages is not their real mother, they attempt to capture and force (i.e. torture) her to reveal where their mother has gone. In the end, it turns out Lukas died in a terrible accident, which also damaged the mother (thus needing facial reconstruction surgery) but Elias has been unable to cope. Rather than realizing the terrible things he has done and setting his mother free so he can get help, he sets the house on fire, killing himself and his mother so they can be reunited with their family.
I called the twist so early, it was honestly embarrassing. After all, in a horror film, when one party refuses to acknowledge the other, one or both of those parties are dead. All it took was watching which one of the twins did all the physical interactions and, bingo, there’s your twist. It changed how I saw the movie versus the audience I saw it with. For one, when I was rooting for the mom to escape, everyone was rooting for her to remain captured. It’s hard to imagine which experience is more horrific — realizing this woman is dealing with a psychotic child the entire time or only reason after several emotionally confusing minutes that you were rooting for the villain.
I honestly wouldn’t call this movie a horror film — I’d label it a thriller, and a dark one at that. There’s a lot of tension if you look at it from Elias’s perspective, and a lot of Home Alone style antics, except for that fact there’s a lot more bloodshed and death. The shift where he becomes convinced his mom is not there is not exactly clear, but it’s like a switch being flipped and we go from cautious and nerve-wracking to cruel and hard to watch. However, I was never scared at any point, mostly just revolted and a bit angry. The original title is Ich Seh, Ich Seh which means “I see, I see” which makes sense because Elias doesn’t see at all, blinded by hallucinations and probably that mask he is so keen on.
Kudos to Susanne Wuest for basically being the scariest thing in this whole movie. When she is being tortured and set on fire (oh yeah, you get to watch that) she is damn convincing, and her sheer panic and horror are chilling. I honestly wanted to scream when she was being assaulted because it is too awful to even comprehend, and it’s due mainly to her performance. The twins, Elias and Lukas Schwarz, bring their own brand of creepy and are interestingly distinct from each other, but what they do best is act like brothers. Their dynamic is what keeps the film engaging as well as heartbreaking, at least until you realize one of them is insane.
The cinematography is pretty top-notch, though in a film filled with some brutal torture scenes, that’s not always something you want. The house and outdoor scenes are beautiful, and, in terms of the bedrooms, look lived in but not staged. Of course, I could have done with less formaldehyde cat in a tank and more creepy imagery of bugs and erratically shaking heads, but art-film watching beggars can’t be choosers.
Goodnight Mommy is a major letdown in almost every category. The trailers and posters promise you creepy but only deliver some upsetting, violent imagery that makes you cringe but never actually makes you scared. I came into it for what looked like top-notch surrealist imagination and all I got was bargain brand body horror. Don’t be fooled by the excellently edited trailer, this movie ranks as just so-so in both terror and execution.
– Good acting.
– Good cinematography.
– Not particularly scary.
– Twist was unoriginal.