Twin boys who do everything together, from collecting beetles to feeding stray cats, welcome their mother home after her reconstructive surgery. But with her face wrapped in bandages, and her demeanor distant, they grow suspicious of her identity.
September 11, 2015
Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Elias Schwarz as Elias
Lukas Schwarz as Lukas
Susanne Wuest as Mother
And it’s easy to see why. It’s a striking beauty of a film – shot in the lush landscapes of rural Austria. But the fabulous modern home and bountiful cornfields in the film, belie a dark tale of frightening grief, crippling guilt and violent suspicion.
Elias and Lukas are twin brothers living an idyllic existence of trampoline jumping in a hailstorm, playing hide-n-seek on their family’s vast acreage and roaming the beautiful forest surrounding the home they share with their mother. Mother’s just returned from some major facial surgery, and so her entire visage is bandaged. Her behavior is out-of-the-ordinary (including a nude walk through the woods – ending in a rather jarring moment) and the imaginative boys soon begin to suspect that this woman who is preparing their meals, doling out their discipline and sleeping all throughout the day – may not be their mother.
I’m uncertain if the filmmakers expected most audiences to catch on within the first 10 minutes of one of the major conceits/reveals, or if I’m just too smart for the writers. I’m going to suggest it’s the former. I’m not super intelligent, so I suspect that we are to know exactly what’s happened/happening the moment we first see the boys interact with their mother. I won’t spoil it here.
As our brothers, Elias and Lukas Schwarz (yes, the same name as their characters) bring the proper amount of childhood innocence, but along with all of the things boys (particularly brothers) do – slap fights and the like – they oddly also own an impressive collection of hissing cockroaches, roam about open crypts – tumbling over piles of bones – and going to all manner of extremes to confirm if their mother is for real. So these two gifted young actors have it all down, but when the going gets rough and new questions about their initial questions begin to arise, the pain and self-doubt is written all over their faces. And this “looking in a mirror” similarity is heightened when the boys decide to dress exactly alike (although they have been for some of the other scenes) to confuse their “mother”. I’m reminded of the little known ‘70s horror film, The Other. Goodnight, Mommy would actually make a fantastic double feature with this like-minded tale of brotherly loyalty and love.
The mother is beautifully played by Susanne Wuest. Early on, as her face is covered in a sea of bandages, she’s reminiscent of Clare Higgins as Julia Cotton in Hellbound: Hellraiser II. She’s mysterious, strangely sexual and truly terrifying. What’s interesting is that when she finally removes the bandages (revealing herself to the audience as well as her children), we take the same stance as the boys. Is it really her? In later scenes, as things in the household come to a head and take a violent turn, you’ll marvel at Wuest’s ability to give you a case of “the feels”. Her pleading and crying are painful to watch – and what makes it even more awkward as an audience, is that even leading up to and during these climactic moments, you’re still not sure if she’s really Elias’ and Lukas’ mother. You’ll love to hate and hate to love Wuest’s “mother” as the whole thing makes you incredibly upset, uncertain and uncomfortable.
As you can guess, the film leaves lots of questions unanswered, and I prefer it that way. As much as I like to draw (and re-draw) my own conclusions, it’s always nice to hear from the filmmakers, what they believe to be the real final answers. So some research on that end may be in order. For now, I just want to let the film sink in a bit. As of this moment, I believe it will stick with me for a few days – as I try to decipher what actually happened – as those aforementioned “questions unanswered” continue to percolate. I guess that’s the signature of a good film. It makes you think and second-guess yourself, long after the credits have rolled.
This is definitely more of a thriller with horrific elements than outright horror. It’s honestly also a depressing family drama. But at its heart is a very sad story about death, how our minds deal with grief and guilt and how the slightest suspicions can soar to new heights in the wake of life-changing loss. And again, you won’t find easy cookie-cutter and simple explanations. I’d be curious to know what my readers take away Good Night, Mommy from the film’s ending.
Was this bandaged woman actually the mother to Elias and Lukas? Inquiring minds want to know.
Goodnight, Mommy won a bevy of awards at many film festivals and is now playing in select theatres.
While it offers some unsettling and gory make-up effects, it’s a very subtle film with subtitles for the sparse dialogue offered.
I highly recommend this one, but it’s not for everyone and definitely not an easy pill to swallow.