Goodnight Mommy (2015)

Like Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) before them, Austrian filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala use the horror genre to channel ideas and thoughts about grief, as well as the pain and suffering it brings with it. It’s a fitting match, really, and one that I wouldn’t mind turning into a trend in the coming years, provided filmmakers are delivering films of quality, and Goodnight Mommy is certainly worth a watch.

This is likely an arthouse movie first, and a horror movie second. Franz and Fiala favor silence over pages and pages of dialogue, and much of the film passes without any music. The plot is this: brothers Elias and Lukas (played brilliantly by Elias and Lukas Schwarz) become skeptical that the woman returning home from an operation (pictured above), claiming to be their mother, may not be at all who she says she is. Much of the film follows the two boys playing and wandering around their large, stylish country home, avoiding their bandaged mother, who behaves oddly and often reacts violently to any disobedience, fueling the brothers’ skepticism. It burns slow, but it burns enough to keep the viewer enthralled. The bandaging alone on the mother’s face is horrifying, benefited by Mommy‘s strikingly cold visual style. There are whites in abundance, as if emphasizing the sanitary. When something unsanitary occurs or appears, then, such as Elias’ collection of cockroaches, it unsettles all the more. This is a horror film devoted to the image, and I admire it for it.

Goodnight Mommy burns slow, almost like Ti West’s superb House of the Devil from 2009, for about an hour and then explodes in its third act in a whirlwind of shocking sadism, almost evoking Michael Haneke in its gruesomeness. If it isn’t always as explicitly vile as, say, the latter half of the Saw franchise, the context renders it as vile as they come. This explosive and sadistic third act is certainly effective horror, conjuring disgust and deep moral confusion in the viewer, but simultaneously feels like an entirely different movie. And as brutal as I’m writing this to be, it could have gone further, making the final act feel far less assured and intelligent than the creepy, moody hour that preceded it. I like what the last 30 minutes made me think about, but I didn’t like how Franz and Fiala went about it. It lacks the cold, detached, artful grace of the initial hour. That said, if you like your horror smart and visually sumptuous, look no further than Goodnight Mommy.

★★½ out of 5

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