Months ago when the trailer for the Austrian film “Goodnight Mommy’ hit the web, horror fanatics and film buffs alike hailed it the scariest film trailer of the year,believing it was sure to be one of the best horror films of 2015.
The trailer painted a story of twin boys Lukas and Elias living alone with their mother who had just undergone some sort of facial reconstructive surgery. Something doesn’t seem right about the mother, who stalks through the sleek, modern home silently and wears a mask that hides her identity. The twins begin to suspect that the woman in their house was not their mother.
The trailer proved to be more than misleading, for we soon find out that something far more sinister than the mother is lurking in their home. Chaos ensues and trust in the family is abolished completely, leaving three strangers alone in the Austrian countryside to deal with undiscussed issues and memories.
Despite some misgivings including an unnecessarily brutal 20 minutes of gore and torture, some inexplicably aggressive Red Cross volunteers and the employment of scenes that seemed to exist solely to mislead the audience, ‘Goodnight Mommy’ is an exceptional directional debut for Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, whom also wrote the screenplay together.
While the film might not flow in a way that American audiences are used to the horror genre operating, it still builds an intense mood of tension and ambiguity. The action is very slow building and relies almost completely on atmosphere through artful and creepy cinematic composition, minimal music or sound and symbolic images.
Some audience members might be able to guess the ‘twist,’ which I believe the screenwriters may have meant to be obvious from the beginning. While some might say that this ruins the film, in many ways in builds up more anxiety as we watch the characters descend farther into madness and leave us to wonder when everything will reach its crescendo.
This film is not for the average viewer; not only are there intense scenes some may not be able to stomach, but it is also such a different kind of film than what many picture when they think of horror. There are no real jump scares, ghouls or zombies, just a mother and her sons living with ambiguous loss and very real evil.
“Goodnight Mommy” follows suit with many top independent horror films that have been made in the past few years like “The Babadook,”and “It Follows” which try to tackle heavy psychological and social issues by choosing to manifest them symbolically through horror. “Goodnight Mommy” begs the question of how we define our identities, especially in the face of tragedy.