Do you ever watch a movie that has an impact on you, but you are not sure you quite understand why? Then, when you watch it a second time, things become clearer and the effect becomes that much more profound? That is the experience I had with Goodnight Mommy. I watched it, was engrossed by it, was creeped out by it, and was left wondering what I had just watched. Then I gave it a second pass and things cleared up. Yes, a lot is left to the imagination, it is not exactly heavy on the exposition, but therein lies the beauty.
Goodnight Mommy hails from Austria where it was originally titled Ich Seh, Ich Seh (I See, I See). It is the debut feature film from the writing/directing team of Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. It is a quiet, challenging film that draws you to its creepy tale of identity, blame, and loss. I could over simplify the whole thing and tell you a movie that it shares some details in common with, but that would really rob both films of what makes them stand out. While it would work as simple shorthand, it is not entirely accurate. So, with that said, i will leave you with that tease.
As the movie opens, we are introduced to a twin brothers, Elias and Lukas. They are running through a cornfield, playing, doing things that kids do. They live in an isolated home in the countryside. Considering the location, the home is of a very modern design and sparsely decorated, it has a rather cold feel to it. The boys come running home to greet their mother, who has just returned home from having facial surgery (facelift? accident? it is not clear). They find her with her face wrapped in bandages, looking much like an alien mummy more than a mommy.
Right from the start, the relationship between the boys and their mother is strained. Their mother seems to favor one boy over the other and there is a strong resentment on the boys side. It is a bizarre relationship. The boys have an active fantasy life where they imagine the woman claiming to be their mother is some sort of monster. The mother becomes more and more frustrated with the boys refusal to accept her, oftentimes lashing out at them physically.
The slow paced film keeps building and building until the final big reveal and life altering event. The cumulative effect the movie has weighs heavily on the viewer. It is the equivalent of a punch to the gut, but it plays more like someone slowly squeezing your through shut over the span of 100 minutes, you do not notice it at first, and when you do, it is too late and it is all over.
Goodnight Mommy is a story of identity, of personal blame, of displacement, of simply being overwhelmed. It is probably the story of hundreds, if not thousands of families. You may not recognize it, but it is there. Yes, it is a creepy atmospheric, ostensibly a horror film, but it is also a personal tale, a journey, a profoundly tragic and sad tale. It is an experience, one to be had with not much in the way of foreknowledge. To know to much ahead of time would be to rob of the experience.
It is finely crafted film that features good performances all around. It is the kind of movie that feels like it would have been easy to go overboard with it, take things over the top. Credit to the team here for playing everything much more restrained. Everything just works so nicely here, when all is revealed, even if you figured it out already, still lands with emotional heft.
Goodnight Mommy is a fantastic film that provides a great experience and is a breath of fresh air for the genre. It relies on psychological triggers and overall atmosphere rather than gore or action. Now, that is hardly unique, but in this case it just has a very unique feel. Certainly worth the time.
The film is presented in a ratio of 2.39:1 and looks pretty good. It does not have the look of a Hollywood blockbuster, but the detail level is good, even in closeup. It is a fine transfer that retains the film quality of the 35mm film it was shot on. THe DTS-HD audio is also quite fine. It is not exactly a lively film, but it gives everything nice, clear, and with a little weight. Nothing to complain about there. The extras are limited to a conversation with the filmmakers about the source of the idea and all that it means.