Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Boston Underground Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit bostonunderground.org and follow BUFF on Twitter @.
The internet is a great thing for movies. It provides this avenue for a multitude of voices to not only proclaim their love for film but to also dig into its deeper meanings and implications. But with the good comes the bad and the age of the cinematic surprise is waning. Not only must you avoid friends that have seen a film but now you largely must steer clear of this bastion of online information. True mystery is fleeing with every utterance of “oh my God, have you seen…” This review will not divulge any of the many details of Goodnight Mommy, but truly you should leave this page entirely if you have yet to see the film. Know that it is a deliberate and tortuous slow burn, but carry nothing more. Be open, be curious, be nervous.
Know that it is a deliberate and tortuous slow burn, but carry nothing more. Be open, be curious, be nervous.
As Goodnight Mommy begins, there is no way of knowing just where it will go. Like its setting it is remote yet immaculate. The home is separate from society, yet painstakingly constructed. You get the impression that every minute detail of the house was dutifully chosen. Nothing was just slapped on, but rather deep thought was put into even the smallest elements. The film is much like the house it resides in. You can sense a measured contemplation in its very foundation, yet can easily just slip through, simply noting the beauty and missing the complexity.
At the film’s center are the performances of the young twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz. The children turn in magnificent performances, although it would be inaccurate to categorize them as adult. The writer-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz take care in maintaining the innocence and wonder of adolescence. In a way, this is where the film acquires its power. For it is in the constant childlike confusion and wonder of Elias and Lukas that it can accomplish anything at all. Were the characters written as preternaturally intelligent or captivated with anything other than the concerns of childhood it would be decidedly inauthentic. No, these are thoroughly children, which as the film descends into darkness makes it all the more terrifying.
The cast of the film is extremely small, so while the strength of the Schwarz twins’ performance is of paramount importance, Susanna Wuest’s mother is no lesser. In her introduction, wrapped in bandages, nearly alien in appearance, she is separate from us. We are with the twins. Fiala and Franz want us to identify and support these two boys in their journey. For all intents and purposes this mother hidden behind bandages is the opposition. Wuest’s long stares into nothing and the heavy hand with which she rules over her house remind of a darker Evil Queen of Snow White brought to life. Her choices are strict and absolute and even as she plays with the boys we remain distrustful of her motives. Despite her outwardly sinister appearance, it is tough to assess whether her villainy is actual or merely perceived. Like the film as a whole, Fiala and Franz leave us in this perpetual state of ambiguity. We are never quite sure of what we can trust.
Unabashedly staring at the crushing truth of life, only this time through the curious eyes of a child.
The thematic search for truth and discovery is played as undercurrent. Fiala and Franz would much rather we concern ourselves with the trifles of Lukas and Elias, so that they may build fascination and temptation while we remain distracted. The confidence with which they set the film, placing moments of intrigue amongst those of monotony is exquisitely impressive. Perhaps that is what makes some moments so utterly shocking. Fiala and Franz have been disarming us the entire time with the mundanely honest, so to believe that something depressing and emotionally deep is fuming like a powder keg is that much more difficult. The film is reminiscent of Michael Haneke at his more surreal. Unabashedly staring at the crushing truth of life, only this time through the curious eyes of a child.
At times, however, much like Haneke’s films, Goodnight Mommy feels unnecessarily severe and tortuous. Forcing the characters through the most arduous and terrible of tasks with a brutality that snuffs out any light of hope. It is not a film that you can feel good about nor do you really yearn to experience it a second time. Multiple viewings are required just to begin to pick away at the truth buried within and while the film certainly deserves it, I don’t know that many viewers will be capable. Additionally, there are certain offshoots that nearly abandon the film’s grounded nature, becoming so surreal and nightmarish to compound the confusion that has already been growing. Goodnight Mommy is meticulously crafted and honestly delivered. It deals with themes of incredible complication in a way that is impressively measured and ambiguous, although it is in an exceedingly troubling package. It is a difficult film. Difficult to understand, difficult to watch.
Goodnight Mommy is meticulously crafted and honestly delivered. It deals with themes of incredible complication in a way that is impressively measured and ambiguous, although it is in an exceedingly troubling package. It is a difficult film. Difficult to understand, difficult to watch.