David L. Garcia
I suppose, on some level, I’m glad I saw “Goodnight Mommy.” It is impeccably directed, well-acted, and features one of those endings that hits you like a baseball bat to the skull. The critic in me thought it was a fine film.
The other part of me, the part that cares about being happy and wants to minimize how much disturbing, screwed up stuff I am privy to in this life, hated it. “Goodnight Mommy” is a raw, incredibly disturbing film; it’s not so much a “scary” movie as a truly horrifying one, one that forces you to explore the darkest parts of human nature and family relationships. It is not a fun film. I don’t recommend watching this on Halloween, unless you and your pals want to sit in uncomfortable silence for a half hour once the credits roll.
The film focuses on two twin boys, Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz), and their mother (Susanne Wuest), a TV announcer who’s been in the hospital getting facial reconstructive surgery. Upon her return, the boys find her cold and distant, nothing like the mom they remember. She spends all her time in her room, and has begun ignoring Lukas completely, refusing to speak to him or cook him dinner. The boys decide to snoop and spy on her to find out the truth. After that doesn’t work, they decide to get medieval, and the films morphs into a “Lord Of The Flies”-style nightmare.
The film is rated R for disturbing content, and although that description is not wrong, it hardly does justice to just how messed up this movie is. Torture has been a horror cliche since the first “Saw”, but it’s rare that a film gives you a sequence as agonizing as the final 20 minutes of “Goodnight Mommy.” The image of Elias and Lukas coldly and meticulously supergluing their mother’s lips shut just to cut them apart, or using a magnifying glass to burn her cheeks, is not one that goes down easily. God, this film is unpleasant.
Shot in 35mm, the film is full of beautifully composed shots and soft lighting that manages to heighten the suspense without falling into cliche. It flows with a kind of dream logic, slowly creating a sense of dread, so that by the end we accept the nightmarish conclusion as something that, for better or worse, was inescapable.
The direction, by Austrians Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, couldn’t be better. The performances by twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz are pretty great too. They have an onscreen familiarity that (I assume) can only come from real twins.
Watch this movie if you have a real interest in movies and how film can express violence, cruelty, and grief in viscerally transgressive ways. If you want to enjoy yourself, well, “Scream” is on Netflix.
4 out of 5 stars
Photo courtesy of Focus Features