Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s artful, violent, elegant and excruciating “Goodnight Mommy” is a doozy of a movie, constructed with icy visual exactness in superb 35mm. (Trailer below.)
The film opens with plenty of atmospheric portent, as the camera slithers through a cornfield in an isolated natural world suggestive of a fairy tale, before introducing Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz), identical adolescent twins who look like the pin-up children of the Third Reich, who aren’t convinced that their chilly, (also) blonde mother (Susanne Wuest) is really who she says she is.
Following some sort of facial surgery, she returns to their ultramodern country home—so austerely manicured that it resembles the work of a psychotic interior decorator—with her face swaddled terrifyingly in gauze save for the eyes. 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), the prints of whose button-pushing fingers are all over this twisty pseudo home invasion thriller in which the invaders are the people who already live there. With gothic fairytale aspirations, elaborately weird “gotcha!” dream sequences and shudder-inducing nuclear family dynamics, “Goodnight Mommy” is no question a movie that could’ve only come from Europe. If Georges Franju, Michael Haneke and Takashi Miike co-directed a horror movie (god help us!), this might well be it.
While garden variety American horror movies aren’t prude about turning children into harbingers of evil (take for example, uh, any contemporary US horror movie) “Goodnight Mommy” goes to even further, more horrifying lengths to propose that children could actually be inherently malevolent. This 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—and a must-never-see for pretty much everybody else.
RADiUS-TWC will release the film stateside. “Goodnight Mommy” plays New Directors/New Films this week.