Goodnight Mommy has been called the scariest film of the year. It’s far from it but that doesn’t mean it’s not a suspenseful ride. Similar to The Babadook, Goodnight Mommy focuses more on the psychological aspects of horror rather than the supernatural or gory elements. Despite its weak story, the stunning shots and tense setting make this film unique and one to remember.
Co-directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, Goodnight Mommy is a psychological thriller that takes familiar tropes and puts them in a child’s perspective. Twin brothers, Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz), wait for their mother (Susanne Wuest) to come home from a major surgery. She comes home with bandages all over her face and, seemingly, a new personality. Lukas and Elias become convinced that she isn’t their mother and then are determined to prove it one way or another.
Aesthetically, the movie is stunning. The shots of rural Austria provide a very real sense of isolation from the real world. The two brothers live in a seemingly rich house but they spend most of their time outside on the lake or exploring the corn fields. We experience all of this through a child’s point of view, and the filmmakers do a great job of providing that tint of youthful imagination .
Unfortunately, despite how beautiful it was, the tone was a tad inconsistent. The first half was great because it brought genuine discomfort (I never want to be near cockroaches ever again) through a cerebral experience. Sadly, by the second half, this is mostly abandoned and replaced with unnecessary and contrived scenes, such as a mild torture sequence. When compared to the previous imaginative and tense moments, the second half felt forced and rushed to wrap up.
The film tells the audience too much and yet nothing at all. The story itself was fine, but too predictable. It doesn’t take much to figure out the twist right away which makes the ending a little disappointing. However, the film is still open to interpretation. Nothing is spoon-fed to the audience and pieces to the puzzle are subtly sprinkled in. Every detail – from something in the corner of the shot to specific pictures on the wall – contributed something to the story and created new theories for the audience to think about.
The twins did a fantastic job. Usually, I get annoyed with how bad child actors are, but I’d compare them with Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense. Despite having little dialogue, they were able to believably convey the tension and pain of their situation. However, the spotlight should be on Wuest. She was able to bring two conflicting personalities and subtly mix them together, making quite the indescribable character. Up to the end, I didn’t know what to make of her or her actions. Even now, I don’t know whether she was a villain or a protagonist.
Overall, Goodnight Mommy succeeds as a film because it derives its horror from tension rather than cheap jump scares. It may not be the scariest film of the year, but you’ll definitely feel those cockroaches in your stomach.