After wowing many on the festival circuit, Goodnight Mommy, or Ich Seh Ich Seh as it’s known in it’s native Austria, finally hits Blu-ray. It’s one of those films where you should go in blind, a skillful buildup in tension and mounting dread coupled with an effective twist, but it’s revealing little to say that a genre film featuring twin children does not end well.
Lukas and Elias are twins, living on an isolated homestead. Their mother (Susanne Wuest) returns home after cosmetic surgery, her face bandaged and bloodied. Her behavior is strange, distant and cold with angry outbursts. A far cry from the nurturing mother who used to sing to them. Intent on recuperating she lays down rules ensuring she will not be disturbed, leaving the boys to not only entertain themselves but affording them time to ponder her behavior, watch her, and eventually come to the conclusion that this person who returned home to them may not even be their mother at all.
Goodnight Mommy is the first feature from co-writer/co-director team Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. It’s an uneasy and engrossing film that hits home in two ways. The first being how children relate to their parents and their seemingly harsh and changing rules. The contradiction and changing nature of a mother as a symbol of comfort and protection but also discipline. The second exploits the deep harbored fear lying in the back of the minds of most parents, their vulnerability to these erratic beings they brought into the world. The film crafts doubt well, first framing the boys’ perspective then switching to the mother’s later in the game, an effective way to draw us in and elicit maximum sympathy. It meshes a mounting psychological terror with some more brutal physical moments. Visuals are captivating, from stunning, wild exteriors to an exquisitely constructed home where the events of the film unravel.
What starts with a sense of something being slightly off with the returning matriarch escalates via the boys’ observations and in some cases overactive imaginations to climax with a disturbing and tragic finale. Beneath all this tangible dread is a rather moving tale of how trauma affects both individuals and a family. As the story progresses it becomes clear why things are not what they seem and how an inability to process a tragic event has set in motion something even more horrific. A division between a mother and her children, Lukas in particular bearing the brunt, leading to a siege mentality building between the boys.
Wuest’s character is largely constructed by the writing but she does great work as she begins to reveal herself and her pain in the last act of the film. But Goodnight Mommy belongs to real life brothers Elias Schwarz and Lukas Schwarz. Their bond translates to the screen and both give nuanced performances. Playful, mildly reckless, energetic, and full of life. Suppressed by this entity that has returned to their lives and seems intent on dividing them. Their lurking and silent communication during the quieter moments speaks volumes and ultimately helps craft this most disconcerting of films.
The transfer is of high quality, texture and details show up well, with no artifacts or notable issues at all. The artistic stylings of the film are shown off well from the stark, detailed visuals of the house to the exterior shots of cornfields and forests.
The special features are limited to a Conversation with Filmmakers Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala. It’s a very interesting insight into their collaborative process, how they worked together making the movie as well as how they wrote it, and what inspired them, including personal tales and other film influences. They also delve into their intentions to craft suspense within the film with the intent on impacting the audience. It’s a welcome addition and not often do you see features with such open commentary from filmmakers.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Goodnight Mommy is an artful piece of filmaking that plunges into the thriller genre. A psychological horror that explores an emotional trauma tearing a family apart. Gripping and unsettling, horrifying and tragic in equal measure. A must see.
Goodnight Mommy is available on Blu-ray from December 1st.