Following the tale of two children whose world is suddenly thrown into doubt and chaos, Goodnight Mommy is an enigma. A beautifully composed piece, but also flawed in its composition; terrifying at times…but also suffers from a sense of the ominous that defuses the fear; A masterpiece to some…a valiant failure to others.

When the mother of twin ten-year old boys Elias and Lukas returns home after undergoing cosmetic facial surgery, the boys are startled by both her bandaged appearance and her difference in temperament, feeling her to be crueller and more isolating than she once was. Considering this, the boys come to believe that underneath the bandages, their mother might be an imposter…a shared doubt that leads the two boys down a rabbit hole of depravity from which the darker truth will be revealed…and they may never be able to return.

Goodnight Mommy is an eerie fable, almost like a modern spin on some kind of Brothers Grimm cautionary tale. From its opening moments, it seeks to destabilise with an oft kilter tone and a performance style that both invites and excludes audience association. As such, much praise should be given to three performers who carry the film: Elias and Lukas Schwartz as the Twins, and Susanne Wuest as the Mother. The divide between the two boys and the mother is palpably articulated, and the lurking camera pries into the mother’s behaviours as if capturing the distortion felt in the eyes of a child.

Directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala manage to craft an exquisite atmosphere of terror by destabilising the everyday and creating distrust in the common, through the entwining of unnerving horror within this environment. The visual construction of the world at play is particularly sensational; the foregrounding of a thoroughly modernist home right in the heart of a natural woodland setting creates tremendous contrast between reality and façade, magic and science, good and evil…dualities that lurk right at the very dualities at the heart of the film itself. The cold and formal space of the home only intensifies the distance between the ever more suspicious children and their fragile mother. However, as the power balances shift in the film, the sense of the impinging wild of the natural world the house has been a bubble from grows, and the anarchy and darkness inevitability corrupts it. It’s almost reminiscent of gothic cinema, such as The Innocents, in this playing with space, only filtered through a modern architecture making the contrast somehow even more disturbing and alienating.

The way the directors’ focus on the banality of the cruelty within the film is the strongest element in creating the level of shock that cuts through the latter stages of events. The use of household items and infantile crafted objects (masks, sticks as arrows) emphasises the banality of the children’s acts in the film…the evil within their innocence, as it is all a game to them and conducted with a child’s logic, devoid of understanding…or perhaps more scarily, imbued with more malicious emotion because of this. This raw sensibility clashes with the sterile order of the mother and her home only reinforcing this power of visual acuity within the film.

For all of this undeniably impressive and powerful quality to the work, I sit here still with the same sense of disappointment as I did while the credits rolled upon finishing the film, trying to grasp exactly how I felt about the film as an entire work. As I have previously stated, there are moments of sheer horror and beauty in this film that are absolutely admirable and distinctive in modern horror, but ultimately the film suffers because of two inherent flaws in my opinion, both addressing to the narrative. Firstly, there is a central narrative conceit within the film that seems, in my opinion, to be played as something lurking beneath the surface to culminate in a revelation at the film’s conclusion for dramatic impact. Now, this would work perfectly…if it wasn’t horrendously obvious from about the first minute. Perhaps I am being harsh and this was either an intentional act of subversion or something that the audience discovering early was supposed to shape a perspective; however, for me personally, the sheer obviousness and lack in craft of hiding reference to it in all aspects (narrative, performance, direction, editing) defused what would have been an overwhelmingly powerful source of tension as the film moved into darker and more troubling spaces. There was no such visceral charge and instead all I felt was the dull thud of predictability that belies the obvious talent of the filmmakers. It was such a deafening clang of a note that it threw off the entire symphony of elements behind it. Furthermore, you can feel the disguising of the truth splinter into other aspects of the narrative, and with no suspension behind them, lead to narrative moments that hold no mystery and disrupt the ultimate momentum of the entire film. Indeed, this rhythmic frailty disrupts most of the middle section of the film before threat turns into horrific action in the final third, suddenly shocking the very nervous system of the film back into life from its meandering lull.

Goodnight Mommy is, at its best, a captivating work of modern horror that balances dread and shock with a metronomic rhythm, with a breathtaking visual composition and honest performances. However, what could have been something of a masterpiece is undone by a fundamental flaw in its narrative construction and a sense of the obvious that defuses the crucial tension that should drive the film forward and lessens the overall impact of the complete vision. Beautiful but maddening, Goodnight Mommy is a richly rewarding horror experience, if not a wholly satisfying one, that plays as a twisted fairy tale of appearances, as the dark seed grows behind the masks of innocence.

Movie Review: Goodnight Mommy
3.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (1 Vote)

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk