League instead surprised us all with a shocking piece of auteur horror out of Austria, a film that he said was his favorite of the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. And half an hour into the film, I was still trying to guess what it was. There’s nothing like seeing a movie cold.
It wasn’t until after the screening, which shocked and perplexed and mesmerized three packed houses, that I had the English title of Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s artful, violent, elegant and excruciating “Goodnight Mommy,” a film constructed with icy visual exactness in superb 35mm.
The film opens with plenty of atmospheric portent, with the camera slithering through a cornfield an isolated nature setting suggestive of a fairy tale, before introducing Elias and Lukas, the identical twins, probably not much older than 10 or 11, who aren’t convinced that their mother is really who she says she is.
She has recently returned to their ultramodern country home, so austerely manicured that it resembles the work of a psychotic interior decorator, her face covered in gauze following an undefined facial surgery. Mummification aside, she’s not the twins’ angelic mother of yore but now a much bitchier, domineering changeling who locks the boys in their room at night, forbids them from leaving the property and stockpiles frozen pizzas in a human-sized ice chest in the basement.
Franz is a journalist and the wife of Austrian director Ulrich Seidl (the “Paradise” trilogy), whose button-pushing fingerprints are all over this twisty home invasion thriller where the invaders are the people who already live at home. And in fact, I kept wondering if the film was Seidl’s, until the obvious horror elements and gotcha dream sequences nullified my suspicion. But “Goodnight Mommy” is, clearly, a movie that only could have come out of Europe.
While garden variety American horror movies have no problem turning children into harbingers of evil, “Goodnight Mommy” takes the unflinching unrest a step further to suggest that children could actually be inherently malevolent. “Goodnight Mommy” is a must-see for fans of extreme cinema and those movie-lovers who get off on taut editing, delicately placed sound design and tightly wound storytelling.
Trailer and clip below. RADiUS-TWC will release the film stateside.