Goodnight Mommy (2015)

Goodnight MommyStarring Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Susanne Wuest

Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala

The home invasion thriller is one of the scariest, most goosebump-inducing subgenres of horror. A stranger in your house, watching you while you and yours as you sleep. A stranger in your house, terrorizing you and your family. Unthinkable. But what if the home invader is your own blood? In a twist on this familiar tale, a beleaguered family is its own worst enemy.

In a remote house in the Austrian countryside nestled between sketchy woods and verdant corn fields, fatherless 10-year-old twin brothers Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) are waiting for their mother (Susanne Wuest) to come home from a long stay in the hospital. When she finally arrives, her face bandaged after extensive cosmetic surgery, nothing is as it was before. The boys start to doubt that this woman is actually their mom… If she’s not Mother, then who is she, and why is she there? They decide they will do whatever it takes to find out. The more she denies their accusations, the crueler their methods of torture become.

From the gripping beginning, in which the twins play a twisted game of hide-n-seek, to the end, where everything comes to a horrifying head, Goodnight Mommy is a classic chiller. There are several stretches of no-dialogue moments in which things are shown and not told, letting us have a glimpse into the desolate and oddly lonely world of Lukas and Elias. All they have is each other. Once-affectionate and doting Mother is now a darkness-dweller, demanding silence and complete obedience from her sulky sons. Paranoia gets the better of them, and the more Mother retreats, the deeper they are willing to go to back her into a corner from which she has no choice but to escape.

Goodnight Mommy is the first narrative feature from writer-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, and it looks to be a most promising collaboration indeed. From the flawless casting of the creepy kin to the shuddery special effects, these two clearly know how to get the best of everything with ease. Cinematographer Martin Gschlacht’s breathtaking widescreen 35mm sweeps of the surrounding woods, lake, and cornfields, shot in vividly saturated colors, bring home the isolation of the setting. Inside the ultramodern family estate, we see a sterile Ikea-like model home whose walls display several oversized, unsettlingly blurry portraits of Mother.

In a creepy, slow-burn mash up of Funny Games (1997) and The Other (1972), Goodnight Mother’s perverse turn is easy enough to figure out – but half the fun is in the moment reveal and how it all ends.

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Staci Layne Wilson

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