It’s immediately that Goodnight Mommy burrows under your skin and plants a twisting, unsettling knot within the pit of your stomach.
Deep in the Austrian countryside lies an idyllic home, secluded by dark woods and golden cornfields. Twin boys Lukas and Elias (Lukas & Elias Schwarz) are awaiting their mother’s (Susanne West) return from hospital after undergoing unexplained facial reconstruction surgery.
Their welcome is less than warm when she arrives, her head covered in bandages and with bruised and blood shot eyes peering out. She acts cold and unaffectionate, especially to one twin in particular, lashing out and demanding them to keep the noise down, the blinds closed and no bringing in anything from the outside.
All of your senses tell you that something isn’t right but you can never put your finger on what. It’s slow and steady pace builds an atmosphere of uncertainty and dread, particularly though its use of ominous imagery.
From the creepy crawlers and formaldehyde-drenched cats, to the subtle use of forbidding art pieces within the clean and clinical house, the production design of this film is what establishes Goodnight Mommy’s chilly feelings of unease and uncertainty within its audience.
It doesn’t take long before the boys begin to speculate that their mother might not actually be their mother. They listen to old recordings of her singing songs to them, they look for old photos of her but discover many of the photos in the family album have been removed.
As they try and piece together the reasoning behind their mother’s new vindictive attitude their behavior too begins to deteriorate into something more sinister, especially when we’re thrown into a cruel third act.
Although some will see the ending coming, others who don’t will be hit with a violent culmination. Its shock ending works well thanks to its well thought out construction within the first two acts of the film and it’s this finish that gives meaning to the overall piece.
Like other ‘art-house-horror’ pictures of recent years, such as The Babadook and It Follows, Goodnight Mommy sends you on your way with a feeling of having just witnessed tragedy first hand.
If you favor the more physiological horror over the guts and gore approach then Goodnight Mommy might interest you. It’s certainly a welcome addition to the wave of perceptive horror movies from abroad and something that you will never see coming out of the Hollywood studio system for (heaven forbid) its US remake would never even consider the intricate details that Franz & Fiala gave to this.