This is a column where James Franco talks to his reverse self, Semaj, about new films. Rather than a conventional review, it is a place where James and Semaj can muse about ideas that the films provoke. James loves going to the movies and talking about them, but a one-sided take on a movie, in print, might be misconstrued as a review. As someone in the industry it could be detrimental to James’s career if he were to review his peers, because unlike the book industry — where writers review other writer’s books — the film industry is highly collaborative, and a bad review of a peer could create problems. So, assume that James (and Semaj) love all these films. What they’re interested in talking about is all the ways the films inspire them, and make them think. James is me, and Semaj is the other side of me. —James Franco
James: “Goodnight Mommy” is mostly about these cute twin boys who wander around this country house while their mother recovers from surgery with bandages on her face, like the daughter in “Eyes Without Face.”
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Semaj: Yeah, it does seem like “Eyes Without a Face.” Isolated and creepy. We’re waiting for the mom to take her bandages off. We want to know what’s underneath. But we’re also scared to know what’s underneath.
James: Her bandages are like a monster mask in a more traditional horror film.
Semaj: What exactly is a “traditional horror film” and why is “Goodnight Mommy” not that?
James: I guess I mean all those horror film franchises that we grew up with, that started in the 80’s: “Nightmare on Elm Street” — RIP Wes Craven — “Friday the 13th,” “Halloween,” “Hellraiser,” “Child’s Play.” They all have characters with masks, or with messed up faces.
Semaj: Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Meyers (not the comedian), Pin Head, and Chucky.
James: Chucky doesn’t wear a mask.
Semaj: But he’s a little murdering doll. It’s as if his whole body is a mask. The masks and the fucked up faces tell us that the characters are evil. Their disfigurement is a representation of that.
James: It also hides their emotion, so they read as having no empathy. They’re almost robotic in their actions because the masks prevent them from expressing anything but a relentless need to kill. Well, at least Jason and Michael Meyers.
Semaj: Freddy has expressions. He doesn’t wear a mask, he just has a burned face.
James: Yeah, he’s always laughing about the evil dreams he’s giving people.
Semaj: There are some evil dreams in “Goodnight Mommy.”
James: Yeah. Disgusting beetles doing disgusting things to people.
Semaj: So, why isn’t “Goodnight Mommy” like those other horror movies?
James: I think it’s because of the pace. It moves very gradually. The twins wander around their house, and property waiting for their mother’s bandages to come off. The movie isn’t trying to make you jump every other second, instead it builds tension steadily as the twins begin to doubt that the woman is their mother.
Semaj: The twins have some secrets of their own. They sort of remind me of the twin narrators in that book “The Notebook.”
James: By Nicholas Sparks? I never read it. But I liked the movie.
Semaj: You did?
James: Gosling and McAdams at their sexiest.
Semaj: Okaaaay. No, I meant “The Notebook” by Agota Kristof. It’s about these twins that serve as a group narrator. Meaning they say “we” all the time instead of “I.”
James: That’s like the opposite of us. They’re two people that act as if they were one person; we’re one person who acts like he’s two people.
Semaj: Yeah, I guess either way is creepy.
James: Why is it creepy? I mean, why do others experience it that way?
Semaj: I guess because twins mess with our understanding of individual autonomy. If there are two of something, especially if those mirror reflections function as a connected unit, like the twins in “Spring Breakers,” The ATL Twins, then the border between individuals is blurred. And we experience it as spooky because it goes against our normal understanding of one person/one identity.
James: Yeah, the ATL Twins claim that they are one person in two bodies. They have never been apart except once when they were younger, when one of them went to jail. The other one stayed outside the jail and waited.
Semaj: They sleep in the same bed.
James: Aren’t they like 30 years old?
Semaj: And they date the same women.
Semaj: Would you date twins if they both wanted you to?
James: I bet twins hate it when people ask that. At least the female twins in “The Myth of the American Sleepover” do. They say that they want the guy to pick which one of them he likes more, but he keeps saying he likes both of them.
Semaj: Yeah. But that’s sort of like they want their twin cake and eat it too. They’re twins who spend all their time together, have the same haircut, etc. But then they get mad when people lump them together.
James: I think it’s against the law for twins to be in the same class in elementary school. Isn’t that messed up? They split them up. It’s like what you’re talking about, even the school system reveals that it is biased against the unusual.
Semaj: There’s a twins festival in Twinburg, Ohio called Twins Days. Some twins marry other twins. Like two twin sisters will marry two twin brothers.
James: And they’re more likely, genetically, to have more twins. Like a twins factory.
Semaj: Anyway, let’s get back to the movie.
James: I think it’s particularly scary because it starts off as one thing, and gets you on board one story, but then it changes.
Semaj: No spoilers!
James: Alright, alright. But you asked what made this different from other horror films.
Semaj: No, you asked.
James: No, you did.
Semaj: Whatever. Who would want to see this movie?
James: I guess it works for fans of movies such as “Let the Right One In,” or the more recent “When Animals Dream,” where you have child protagonists dealing with adult level problems.
Semaj: I think it’s more akin to the way the kids are used in “Cop Car.” It’s a melding of the innocence of children with the corrupt world of adults. And the contrast makes the corruption feel that much more sinister.
James: Yeah, except the kids in “Goodnight Mommy” aren’t all that innocent.
Semaj: Dude! No spoilers!
“Goodnight Mommy” is out now in limited release.