Very early on in Goodnight Mommy, you’ll probably guess what the film’s plot twist is. It’s not really too hard to see. In fact, it’s almost too obviously pointed out and alluded to by the writing and directing team of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.
But it speaks volumes for how the pair meticulously control Goodnight Mommy that rather than hindering its rhythm, the film actually uses this uncertainty to create an atmospheric world that is an odd mixture of the surreal and hyper-real. You constantly feel like you’re in a dream. But the repercussions of the characters’ antics are painstakingly presented so you can almost feel each and every scrape, fall and punch. This unsettled aura bubbles under the surface of the film, keeping the audience deliciously agitated and restless, as well as constantly intrigued.
In fact, by the time the plot twist is confirmed, you’ll have forgotten all about it. Instead, you’ll have been seduced and chilled to the bone by the film’s unique violence, as well as mystified by its gloriously simplistic quandary of identity. These traits combine deliciously to make Goodnight Mommy one of the year’s best and most psychologically disturbing horror films.
Goodnight Mommy immediately introduces us to the peculiar ten-year-old twins of Elias (Elias Schwarz) and Luke (Lucas Schwarz), who are spending the next few weeks in a secluded lake-house while their mother recovers from plastic surgery. However, all is not well with the family. The mother has recently separated from her husband and is acting more and more abrasive with her boys as she struggles to deal with the aftermath of her surgery.
In fact, she has become so fed-up with her children that the boys are forced to form an alliance, and they become increasingly concerned about the welfare of their mother, which leads Goodnight Mommy into dark, haunting and even slightly mad territory. In the process you’ll find yourself being further drawn into the subtle mystery, which becomes more and more compelling because you just don’t know who you can fully trust. Much like Ex Machina from earlier this year, the film is built upon a hotbed of uncertainty, while its mirrors The Shining’s intoxicating plot and downright creepiness.
Little character traits, such as the boys’ collection of cockroaches, and their adoption of a local cat, spark horrific scenes further down the line, while the luxurious and fabulously modern lake-house and its gorgeous views of the near-by forest and water become more and more haunting because of the seclusion and distance from reality.
The calm and relaxed demeanor of normal civilians that are introduced into this mix, which includes a delivery man, priest, and two eager Red Cross workers, only exacerbates the suspense and proves just how peculiar the leading trifecta have become.
Much of the credit for Goodnight Mommy’s success belongs to Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s direction. Rather than being overt or heavy-handed, they simply allow the film to move along at its own pace. It soon creeps under your skin, and you’re left on pins and needles all the way to the film’s brutal conclusion that is satisfying, yet distressing. Unlike most of its Hollywood peers, Goodnight Mommy is a lesson in how to completely control your audience by making them both distressed but still entranced, while it simmers with such a peculiar brand of horror that its unsettling after-taste still burns once the credits have long finished rolling.