Goodnight Mommy is a film that totally caught me off guard. I did not know anything about it beforehand, which was a bonus. As I’ve noted before that there is far more to enjoy in a film when the stakes are higher. With the Austrian film Goodnight Mommy, showing at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, what we get is a super creepy thriller.
Twin boys Elias and Lukas are seemingly having a great summer. They are living in a luxury house in the country and they get the run of the place. They are also waiting for their mother to come back. When she arrives all is not well. Her face is covered in bandages and she appears to be distant. The boys begin to think that she may not even be their mother. Instead an impostor has been placed with them for reasons unknown. The boys elect to find out the truth of the matter. First their investigation is fairly benign but as they get more frustrated their tactics become more dangerous.
This is a mix of an art house film and a psychological horror. The film is shot in such a way to lend itself to the more cerebral and artistic cinema predominately found in Europe. The film looks gorgeous. With it’s outdoor scenes in the first few minutes the audience is lured into a false sense of security. All seems good, possibly too good. Even in the house it is all glass and open living areas full of light.
The mood starts to change when the mother appears on screen. An air of mystery hangs over the character and this is evident in the way the film is shot. Instead of an open feeling the camera start to focus on the characters more in a series of close up shots. Without really letting on the tension is starting to increase.
The film is basically a three hander as the vast majority of screen time involve the boys and the mother. The twin boys are very well cast. They are identical and are able to convey that sometimes strange approach that twin siblings communicate in actions as well as words. As the film progresses this becomes quite disturbing.
The mother (Susanne Wuest) is an equally compelling screen presence. It is no easy task to be able to act in a convincing way while your face is hidden. So much of our non verbal communication is done through facial expressions. To be able to make any sort of performance with only the eyes clearly visible is quite an achievement.
I was impressed with the way the story unfolded. Nothing is spoon fed to the audience. The reasoning behind the actions and motivations of the characters is never explored. Instead it is left to the viewer to come up with a suitable back story. This keeps the film feeling fresh and as we all know our own imaginations come up with far more disturbing images than any actually put on the screen.
There is a gradual build up of tension in the film. At first, there is only psychological horror. Then suddenly it switches to more visceral and violent horror which after the build up comes as a real shock. It is not for the faint hearted. The fact that the twins are at the centre of it does not help to lessen the unease.
Overall, a disturbingly good chiller. Recommended.