• At any time of the day, a good movie with popcorn or beer is a welcome pleasure.

    Goodnight Mommy (2015): Movie Review

    "An intense and wicked tale of what went wrong between mommy and her sons.” 

    Mommy is not anymore who she was and her twin sons are not happy about it. Goodnight Mommy (German: Ich she Ich she), Austria’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards and the debut feature of rising duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, is an insidious and haunting tale of a mother-and-son love gone awry and nasty.

    The film opens with a clip of the Von Trapp children and their stepmother singing a lullaby. It then cuts and takes us into a lush, green cornfield where ten-year-old twin brothers Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) are running around in a game of tag. It is outside their isolated and austere Austrian home and in the midst of their game, they discover something out there in the woods.

    Later, their mother (Susanne Wuest), a known TV personality, returns home from an extensive facial surgery. Looking like a mummy from all the bandages wrapped around her face, mommy seems a completely different person. Once loving and tender, she is now cold and strict with her new house rules on keeping silence and the curtains closed while she recovers. She also prepares only one set of clothes and breakfast for them. Accidentally, the boys discover a strange photo of her with a woman who looks and dresses similarly with her. As mommy’s bandages come off, she looks a little different than before. Taking the matters into their hands, the twins tie her up in bed and demand to know where their real mother is. 

    Goodnight Mommy is one of the year’s most unsettling and sinister horror films. It is masterfully written and efficiently executed. It is filled with subtly eerie visuals that match its tender forebodings and spine-tingling twists. Unlike most movies in the genre, it does not rely on cheap tricks to bring fright and chills. Instead, it balances the emotional, psychological and physical violence, all escalating at each passing moment, to maximize the tension. Nonetheless, familiar horror tropes involving roaches, a visit to the woods or graveyard tombs, and simple yet malevolent torture methods are still present.

    The film is deliciously wicked with how it toys with audience’s loyalty. It is difficult who to root for as neither mommy nor the boys are behaving reasonably. The film also shifts point of view midway, making any form of allegiance a guilty feeling. Initially, suspicions are being fed up against mommy such as a glimpse of her bloodshot eye in the mirror as she changes bandage, ominous shots of her watching the twins from behind windows or doors, removal of every photograph of her sons’ father, and even her inability to identify “mama” in their game of “Who am I”. In effect, the brothers develop some weird dreams about her.

    But as the boys delve deeper into the mystery, they also become a little too nasty, aggressive and physically menacing. Worse, the film projects a cringe-inducing elements into their ostensibly kid’s stuffs like playing hide-and-seek in the cornfield, jumping on a trampoline and sneaking a stray cat. The film’s final act is a litmus paper for the audience’s resolve. When all the pieces finally fit together and an overwhelming logic is found after all the madness, it is even harder to identify to whom greater sympathy is to be given. Will it be to the twins who are haunted by guilt? Or to mommy who is limited by personal tragedies?

    Other technical aspects of the movie also exaggerate any sense of danger such as the striking contrast between the antiseptically white house and the vibrantly colourful outdoors, and the interplay between silence and suspenseful, as well as shocking, musical scores. A little humor and an extra pound of tension are added by the appearances of other characters like the local priest and the two Red Cross charity collectors.

    With intense emotional manipulation and dauntingly raw body-horror, Goodnight Mommy is a powerful exploration of a strong mother-child bond spiritually damaged by unforgiving heartbreaks. It has lingering effects, both by its disturbing visuals and its heart-rending narrative.
    Production company: Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion 
    Cast: Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Hans Escher, Elfriede Schatz, Karl Purker, Georg Deliovsky, Christian Steindl, Christian Schatz, Erwin Schmalzbauer 
    Director-screenwriters: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala 
    Producer: Ulrich Seidl 
    Director of photography: Martin Gschlacht 
    Production designers: Johannes Salat, Hubert Klausner 
    Costume designer: Tanja Hausner 
    Music: Olga Neuwirth 
    Editor: Michael Palm


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