Goodnight Mommy (2014) Movie Review – 31 Days of Halloween
In the heat of the summer lays a lonesome house in the countryside where nine year old twin brothers await their mother’s return. When she comes home, bandaged after cosmetic surgery, nothing is like before and the children start to doubt whether this woman is actually who she says she is.
Welcome to Knockout Horror and to day 18 of our 31 Days of Halloween feature. I promised that I was going to back off of the found footage horror after reviewing Creep yesterday. So with that in mind let’s head over to Austria to check out Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s 2014 Psychological horror movie Goodnight Mommy.
You may actually recognise the title of this movie without ever having seen it. It was recently remade in the US by Matt Sobel and starred Naomi Watts. The movie was released on Prime Video and was deemed to be something of an unremarkable and unnecessary remake of what was a perfectly good movie to start with. Obviously this was a pretty big trend in horror for awhile. It really brings back memories of Western directors trashing decent J-Horror doesn’t it? But how does the original version hold up? Let’s take a look.
Austrian Psychological Horror
Goodnight Mommy follows the story of a pair of twins believing that their mother, who recently returned from facial surgery, is actually a different person. Set over the course of a number of days. Lukas and Elias’ mother suddenly seems a lot more strict and ruthless than she did before her surgery. She is completely ignoring Lukas and makes harsh demands of Elias. It is almost as if she is consistently angry at the brothers. The pair, believing that their mother would never treat them like this, begin an investigation to find out what actually happened to their real mother.
This is a very interesting concept for a horror movie and, consequently, Goodnight Mommy has few comparisons. It’s pretty unique and the slowly developing story keeps you enthralled throughout. Naturally, we have no clue what Lukas and Elias’ mother was like prior to her operation. We learn that she was something of a television personality and it could be assumed that her operation was, potentially, cosmetic. But it is very clear that there is a deeper mystery at hand here and that’s what makes this movie so fascinating. We are placed in to the shoes of Lukas and Elias themselves and see things through their eyes as they try to get to the bottom of it.
A Committed Performance
Susanne Wuest stars as the children’s mother and approached this movie with something of an interesting form of method acting. Wuest, who spends much of the movie wearing heavy facial bandages due to the surgical procedure she underwent. Sequestered herself alone for three months to get in the right headspace for performing in Goodnight Mommy. Not only that but she frequently covered her face in bandages and even kept cockroaches as pets.
The isolation of the characters plays a bit part in the movie due to their rurally located home. Cockroaches are also a significant part which bears mention for the squeamish. So Wuest’s desire to immerse herself in these things is easy to admire. The results are noticeable, as well, in her fantastic performance. Method acting is a bit of a strange phenomenon but its hard not to appreciate this kind of dedication to a role.
A Captivating Mystery
Goodnight Mommy somewhat hints at the condition of Capgras Syndrome, otherwise known as Impostor Syndrome. A condition which makes a person believe that someone they know has been replaced by an exact duplicate. The constant “is she or isn’t she” narrative surrounding the children’s mother hints at myriad different explanations but the suggestions that the children are simply mistaken is always there. As the movie goes on, we learn more and the truth becomes more and more horrifying.
For the vast majority of the movie, the horror is fairly muted. There isn’t a great deal of suspense and much of the tension comes from the boys sneaking around and spying on their mother. The scares really start towards the end of the movie and they are not really scares; they are more tooth curlingly vicious moments of terror.
Goodnight Mommy sheds its proverbial bandages and becomes an utterly disturbing and wince inducing affair. It’s almost impossible to see how violent the movie is in the run up. But some of the later scenes in the movie are among the most effective in psychological horror. When you throw in one of the more satisfying twists in a horror movie. It’s a powerful combination. It’s not hard to see it coming but it works tremendously well.
The American version of Goodnight Mommy chose to change things up quite a lot. Replacing some of the later scenes with more narrative based stuff. A choice which many will probably prefer but others will lament. If you have watched the US version then you might want to prepare for something a little more brutal. The final scenes here will stay with you and are very affecting.
Acting deserves special mention. Interactions between the children’s mother and the twins is fantastically done. Every conversation is important and every interaction is significant. Franz and Fiala want you to view this family as completely atypical. They want you to buy into the boy’s concerns for their mother and share in their feelings of abandonment and betrayal. Actual twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz do a brilliant job and show talent beyond their years. You completely share in their concerns and feel for them in their desperation to know what happened to their mother.
Very Well Made
It’s, again, one of those movies like A Dark Song, Resolution and Creep that works so well with only a tiny cast. The characters are so intriguing and the mystery so fascinating that it is difficult not to invest in the story. The character’s interactions seem so bizarre and unnatural that we can only imagine what the twin’s mother was like before the surgery. She surely couldn’t have been like this?
Direction is decent with long, lingering, shots designed to drag you into the world of the children as they focus on seemingly insignificant and unimportant snippets of information. No detail is too small here. Notice how the brothers mirror each other’s handedness? This is one of those movies that really pays to keep an eye on every little detail. The 2.39:1 aspect ratio captures magnificent amounts of visual real estate and does a perfect job of placing the characters front and centre of every shot.
Sound production is quite important here with, seemingly, a lot of foley work. Specifically focused on capturing the echos of the large house, the thudding of footsteps and the hissing of cockroaches. Run time is 1 hour 39 minutes which can feel like a bit of a slog due to the very slow pacing of the movie. But there is enough going on to keep you interested and the film ramps up in a big way in the last third. Viewers might want to keep in mind a fair bit of violence and a bit of nudity as well if that is something that bothers you.
Final Thoughts and Score
Goodnight Mommy is a slow moving, engaging, and rather wince inducing psychological horror movie that is far superior to its American remake. The simple story of a pair of brothers believing their mother has been replaced is incredibly effective. Keeping you wondering what will happen next and just what is at the heart of the mystery. And the final 20 minutes or so are a seriously brutal affair that will make even hardened horror fans groan. Awesome stuff from Austria.