Synopsis: Twin boys move to a new home with their mother after she has face changing cosmetic surgery, but under her bandages is someone the children don’t recognize.
Stars: Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz
Director: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Running Length: 99 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: Here’s the good news. It appears that we’re in a new renaissance of horror films; films made to scare that don’t always involve a slasher hacking away at nubile teens or a monster from the deep chomping away at nubile teens. No, this is a time of the slow burn psychological horror, fright flicks designed to give you the fears while you’re in the theater but also keep you checking underneath your bed for days/weeks to come.
Now here’s the bad news. Not all of these movies are good and Goodnight Mommy is the latest case in point.
Perhaps I’ve seen too many horror entries to feel the kind of dread as someone who isn’t a fan of the genre might feel when confronted with the grisly happenings that go on in Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s Austrian shocker. That may explain why I felt like I was being led along a paint-by-numbers canvas of a screenplay with the kind of twists and turns that feel also-ran. In fact, the big twist of the film is telegraphed so early on that I felt surely I had swallowed the red herring too fast and another rug was going to be pulled out from under at any time.
The handsomely shot film is set in an isolated country home and finds twin boys unsure of the woman they call Mother, a heavily bandaged woman that knows their names but also can’t recall important facts about them. Early scenes show the boys frolicking in the woods and nearby lake but when Mother arrives they are kept inside, trying to evade her cold glare and discover what lies underneath the bandages.
While the film begins as straight up psychological drama, its second act devolves into a gruesome set of torture sequences involving burnt flesh, cockroaches, and a host of other nasty deeds I can’t divulge. It’s a bit of a will tester, I’ll admit, but it’s so unpleasant that even telling yourself “It’s only a movie” doesn’t wash away the gritty grime you’ll feel when the credits roll.
As Mother, Susanne Wuest deserves some special prize for making it to the end of production without losing her mind. It’s a role of few words, and a remarkable one at that, requiring the actress to convey some air of mystery without using dialogue or facial expressions (she’s bandaged up for 75% of the film). I think it’s more to her credit than the screenplay that we empathize with her even while we question her intentions. Twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz have a raw honesty about them that works for their curious characters and the trio supports each other through Franz and Fiala’s more humiliating later scenes.
Goodnight Mommy first came on my radar with a much buzzed about preview that the internet proclaimed to be “the scariest trailer of the year” and they weren’t totally wrong. Unfortunately, after seeing the finished product I can tell you that the trailer is edited in a way to deliberately deceive the audience. A movie (especially a horror movie) should stand on its own and not fabricate scenes merely to get more butts in the seat or more chatter from film fans. It bugged me and it should bug you too.
Not as scary as The Babadook and not as original as It Follows, Goodnight Mommy is admittedly a cut above most of the US horror garbage dumped in theaters…but it’s one that doesn’t live up to expectations.