Goodnight Mommy. Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. Starring Susanne Wuest, Lukas Schwarz and Elias Schwarz.
Rating: 9 (out of 10)
Ripped straight from the pages of your therapist's notebook, Goodnight Mommy is a thoroughly terrifying fairy tale with a killer twist.
You may or may not see said twists a mile away but you will doubt yourself, which is more to the point. Self-doubt and disturbance on several levels, those are the key elements employed by directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, who carefully reveal bits of the narrative layer by layer, much as gauze is removed.
Young twin boys Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) are summering in a plush home in the bucolic Austrian countryside. Unsupervised, they await their mother's return. She's a TV personality, we learn, and she went away to have some extensive facial reconstructive surgery.
Daddy has all but disappeared.
Mother arrives home wrapped in bandages, and looking like an altogether different kind of mummy. Her appearance isn't the only thing that's sinister: new mom is mean. She doesn't sing the boys to sleep; she has new house rules, insisting that the house be kept dark, and silent. She favours one of her boys over the other, refusing to feed or speak to him.
There's some serious dysfunction going on here, but not just on mom's part. The boys are preternaturally in sync with one another, even for twins. You just know that those giant cockroaches that Elias and Lukas have been collecting will come back to haunt us.
Things go from "She's so different" to "you're not our mom" pretty quickly. The boys do some sleuthing, put a few clues together and decide to take charge of their own fate. Now we sense that a few years down the road, the boys could be the sadistic participants in Michael Haneke's Funny Games.
The power shifts from the mother to the twins, and do our loyalties shift, too?
The home's austere Euro interiors are cold and creepy and in stark contrast to the bright, welcoming outside world (gloriously shot by Martin Gschlacht), although even playtime - in the fields, on the trampoline - is tinged with dread. Things get necessarily disgusting, sullying that pristine interior. And it all plays out in near silence, with little music (save for Brahm's lullaby) and scant dialogue. Sound, when it is used, is effectively employed. Life is viewed through blinds, through tightly wrapped gauze, mirrors, and through masks, which play a significant role. Outsiders occasionally venture into the chaos, to darkly comic effect and as a reminder of the trio's isolation.
Elements in the film play on almost every phobia in the book; pick any element of the mother-son dynamic, and it's here. Grimm's Hansel and Gretel had a mother who left her children in the woods because she didn't want to share: stepmothers can't take all the flak. Add touchstones of, loss of innocence, the person we become after cosmetic surgery, fear of parental abandonment, fear of twins (duomaieusiophobia, geminiphobia, take your pick) and withheld affection, for starters.
Goodnight Mommy demands a second watching, to see the details you missed the first time. First-time feature filmmakers Franz and Fiala have crafted a film where waking moments are as nightmarish as the ones that take place in the dark, and where blood ties make for a hellish kind of bondage.