This review of Goodnight Mommy was originally written after its premiere at the Stanley Film Festival earlier this year. Additional thoughts have been added upon review of the Blu-ray, which hits shelves on Tuesday, December 1st. Enjoy!
One of most unhinging films I saw at the Stanley Film Festival came from directing tandem Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, whose psychological shocker Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh) delivered a nasty, gut-grinding film about damaged minds and tormented children. In the film, nine-year-old twin brothers discover that after their mother comes home, bandaged after cosmetic surgery, nothing is like before… especially her. Soon, doubt settles in and the children start to wonder if this woman is actually who she says she is.
Goodnight Mommy wants you to feel uneasy from the onset, pulling you into this hot, summer-set world where twin brothers—Lukas and Elias—question the return of their mother. With her entire face covered in bandages, the film paints this idea of a mother with no face, one that two loving brothers no longer recognize or even trust. She’s different, cold and carries this darkness around with her, a darkness that becomes heightened when her kids start to question who she is. If the woman under those bandages isn’t their mother, then who is? That’s the question that immediately rises in Goodnight Mommy, and holy shit does it go to some dark places.
It’s in this very idea of a faceless mother returning home to her children that the film roots its evil claws into your skin and slowly starts to peel it away. There’s something inherently terrifying about the very idea of no longer recognizing someone you’ve spent your entire life with. And Goodnight Mommy exploits that very notion masterfully, taking you down a rabbit hole that goes from mysterious and unsettling to vicious and disturbing. But the true backbone of the film is in the relationship between the twin brothers, who stick together no matter the cost. It’s a wonderful thing, the inseparable bond between brothers, and the film does an incredible job of displaying their strength, especially towards the end when they’re forced to take matters into their own hands.
It’s right in that very moment where Goodnight Mommy takes an unexpected turn, and it’s one that will leave your jaw on the floor. I won’t spoil it here because the true fun in this film is in the unknown and the steep path it takes in the final 30 minutes or so. The film never quite prepares you for where it’s headed either; what was once a slow boiling sense of dread, quickly turns into pure, bloody shock.
I don’t have much else to say, really. It’s an unbearably tense little film that simmers in an atmosphere of psychological horror. With a small cast consisting of two brothers and their mother, the film feels appropriately claustrophobic and isolated, working its way towards a finale that will have your skin crawling right off your bones. It’s a wonderful treat to the genre, delivering a special kind of crazy that goes to some dark and horrific places.
A Conversation with Filmmakers Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala — While this is the only bonus material on the Blu-ray (bummer!), it offers some great insight into the minds of directing tandem Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. They pour over some of the ideas and themes that inspired one of the best horror films of the year, covering everything from nightmares to the power of fear in film and what inspired them to make Goodnight Mommy. They also talk about scaring the audience and wanting this film to fill them with suspense and to make them tremble—it worked! And although it would have been nice to see some additional bonus features, what is here is most certainly worth a look.
Goodnight Mommy will be available on Blu-ray/DVD this Tuesday, December 1st!