Is that person in your house really your mom or dad, or have they been insidiously replaced by someone or something else? This element of horror hinges on the innocence and vulnerability of a child, an aspect well explored in such films as the 1953 Invaders From Mars, but in Goodnight Mommy writer and co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala take this idea into much darker realms.
The film introduces us to twin brothers Elias (Elias Schwarz) and Lukas (Lukas Schwarz) who live in a modern, but very isolated house. The brothers are inseparable and devoted to each other, even when slapping and punching each other to see who’s toughest you can tell their bond is unbreakable. They roam around this idyllic Austrian countryside, swimming in the still waters of the nearby lake, exploring strange bone laden cairns, and playing tag in cornfields, but there is something always a bit off putting in their play.
Is playing Children of the Corn a thing in Austria?Summer fun is interrupted with the return of their mother (Susanne Wuest) whose been away undergoing some kind of facial surgery. To say the bandaged swathed visage of their mother is creepy would be a gross understatement, and one can certainly understand the boy’s reticence to greet her with hugs and kisses. But it’s not just their mother’s appearance that has the twins concerned for she isn’t acting like the mother they remember, she has moody outbursts and no longer treats the boys as she did before going to the hospital.
Question: Who was taking care of these kids while she was off becoming the Bride of Frankenstein?As more clues are revealed Elias and Lukas become more entrenched with the idea that this woman is not their mother, but how can two kids win against something they can’t or won’t understand? It’s this psychological battle that makes up the crux of the film and for the most part Franz and Fiala do a fantastic job of ratcheting up the tension as horrifying mystery unfolds. Now there is a crucial element of the plot that many viewers will spot earlier on, about the ten minute mark for me, so I can’t even call it a twist as any remotely astute person will figure it out long before “The big reveal” in the third act, but it's the figuring out of what’s truly going on is what makes this film so engaging.
"Mom, have you seen my copy of Lord of the Flies?"And really the plot isn’t what holds this film together, it’s the three central performances, and they are superb as they are chilling. Real life twins Elias and Lukas do much of the heavy lifting for their mother is often but a scary form in the shadows, but when Susanne Wuest, as the titular mommy, is given time to shine she provides such an interesting and multi-faceted performance that it reminded me of Essie Davis’s equally excellent performance in 2014 film The Babadook. Another key element in this movie is that it keeps the audience guessing, even if you think you’ve figured out the twist there is a lot going on here, and you must ask yourself, “Is everything I’m seeing actually happening?”
Now some people may be put off by the tonal shift in the third act from psychological thriller to what some may consider torture porn, which is my least favorite horror subgenre, but for this film it is not overdone, fits in organically, and makes total sense when you finally reach the chilling conclusion. For me the only negative element in the film’s entire running time was the strange appearance of the most persistent Red Cross donation collectors ever. Sure the scene creates some nice tension, and even a bit of humor, but the introduction of these new characters amongst are closely knit trio comes across as odd and unnecessary. That aside this is a well-crafted film with gorgeous cinematography provided by Martin Gschlacht, making this is a must see for fans of horror, and joining the likes of The Guest, The Babadook and It Follows in the pantheon of awesome modern horror films.