Goodnight Mommy is too obvious to be an effective mystery
The current contender for 2015’s most disturbing film, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s graphic horror film Goodnight Mommy has a very promising first half. Twin boys Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz, reasonably good child actors) spend their time running through cornfields, exploring dangerous caves and collecting creepy-crawlies in a jar. When their Mother (Susanne Wuest) returns home from an operation, her face covered in grotesque bandages, the boys begin to suspect all is not as it seems. Why is Mother suddenly so violent and angry all the time? Why do her eyes seem different colours? And why is she refusing to acknowledge Lukas at all?
The image of a face entirely covered in bandage is a staple of horror, perhaps mostly famously in Eyes Without A Face and The Twilight Zone. Franz and Fiala recognise just how disturbing this image is, and exploit it to its full potential. The first half of the film is the most powerful, with the boys’ slow descent into distrust over this harsh looking figure calling itself their Mother. Mixing creepy dream sequences with unflinching emotional violence, filmed in static, Michael Haneke-style takes, Goodnight Mommy has a few standout sequences that really manage to send a shiver down the spine.
It’s in the second half where the film’s two major flaws really stand out. The most obvious is the film’s switch from chilling, almost-Hitchcockian mystery to torture film is one that downgrades the quality and subtlety of the film. Not since The Shining have twins been quite so evil in a film, and even the most child loving person may find themselves suffering pedophobia once it’s over. However, this doesn’t mean that the torture film hasn’t been done to death, and even by shaking the genre up with family dynamics, it’s still frankly a little dull. The other major issue is with the ending revelation. Unlike The AV Club, who spoiled the film entirely in their review, I won’t reveal anything about the real meaning of Goodnight Mommy. Suffice to say, you’ll either have your mind blown, or, like I did, you’ll guess within about ten minutes.
Goodnight Mommy is effectively nasty and occasionally pretty creepy, but it lacks the consistency of the best horror films. If it could stick to tension and mystery, or torture and nightmares, it could be an extremely effective genre film. Franz and Fiala can’t quite decide how to approach the material, and so we get a solid but slightly patchy horror that will frighten you, but probably won’t stick with you once the lights come back on.
By Harry Ford