GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2014): A Psychological Horror Thriller from Austria
GOODNIGHT MOMMY (Ich seh ich seh, 2014) is an Austrian paranormal mystery thriller that uses the psychology of twins to fuel the slow burn of its rising tension. Writer-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz prove their mastery of misdirection in this claustrophobic tale of twin brothers who come to believe that their mother has been replaced by a Doppelgänger.
The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in late August 2014. After making the rounds internationally on the festival circuit (including Toronto and Sitges), it began theatrical runs in France, Turkey, Germany, the U.S., and Canada in 2015. It is currently available on DVD (my copy was from Netflix). The dialogue is in German; English subtitles are available with the U.S. release.
One of the positives of this movie is that it does not provide much backstory, especially up front. For quite awhile, all the audience knows is what it sees and hears in the present. A woman (Susanne Wuest) returns to her upscale, contemporary home in the Austrian countryside with her face swathed in bandages. Her twin sons (Lukas Schwarz as Lukas and Elias Schwarz as Elias) greet her and are immediately taken aback. We soon learn that their mother has had plastic surgery and has separated from their father. The boys become ever more suspicious as their mother behaves in a way that is much harsher than she did before the surgery. Eventually, they become convinced that she is not their mother. Their paranoia becomes almost delusional as they decide to do something about it.
Amplifying the unease of this situation, the film scatters creepy people, objects, and places throughout the landscape of the boys’ world. The boys’ collection of giant beetles, a graveyard under which lies a catacomb filled with human bones, and an “Accordion God” (a delusional man who wanders around an otherwise deserted, nearby town, shouting and making noise with an accordion) are just a few of these incredible details. The brothers’ muted expression of emotion, in comparison with what appears to be building up inside of them, also increases the tension for the audience.
Juxtaposed to this disquieting situation is the cinematic world of the archival footage which opens the film. The fairy tale world of the Von Trapp family, with its happy ending of mutual love between mother and children, stands in stark contrast to the delusional nightmare of the dysfunctional family dynamics portrayed in GOODNIGHT MOMMY . . . That is, until the very last scene of the film.
Although the film’s ending is a surprise, it relies on information that is withheld until the very end. This information does make sense and impresses the viewer when s/he applies it retroactively to the story. Herein is also somewhat of a letdown. For example, the climax seems to contradict at least one previous scene (if it is not a dream sequence) that points in the opposite direction. More importantly, though, the finale is a thematic cop-out, as it destroys a statement about parenting that the film seems to want to make.
GOODNIGHT MOMMY has been promoted in the U.S. as being for serious horror film lovers. Although the supernatural is involved in this movie, which does provide some mildly gruesome scenes, it’s more of a psychological thriller that involves elements of the paranormal than it is a horror flick. The cinematography is good, but not spectacular. The special effects rely on horror conventions rather than break new ground. The acting is good, but not great. A saving grace, however, lies in the movie’s production design.
Overall, I recommend seeing GOODNIGHT MOMMY. However, I found that it was not as good as I had been led to believe it would be. So go in with diminished expectations. You’ll enjoy it more that way.