The movie Goodnight Mommy focuses on the story of three people. A mother returns to her isolated lake house with two children after undergoing facial reconstruction surgery.
Her interactions with her sons, twins Elias and Lukas, are unusual and cold behind a bandaged face. The ten-year-olds begin to suspect an imposter, human or otherwise.
The movie, created by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, introduces real dread in its first half. The house is large, unwelcoming and all-around too quiet.
Cockroaches stored by the sons crawl over each other in glass jars. Characters disappear in absolute darkness and shots linger. As a tractor rides through the cornfield, the boys walk through the haze of dust. The entire setting boasts surreality.
Isolated in such a place, the opening scenes of the family’s reunion are eerie.
During a guessing game the boys write ‘mama’ on a card and stick it to their mother’s head. They begin to fidget uncomfortably when the woman, entirely bandaged except for her eyes and mouth, can’t easily identify herself.
In their situation, nightmares plague the twins, and create suspense for the second half of the film.
For better and for worse, the movie turns its heel and reveals itself as a shocking film rather than a terrifying one about an hour in.
I was excited for more horror scenes, but understood how the film was changing pretty quickly.
The second half still had me on edge, but my squirming in the otherwise empty theatre was caused by gut-wrenching shock rather than anything inherently scary.
Shock presented itself in two ways. The first through imagery, such as the nightmares of the twins. The second involved characters in a situation in which they could become permanently maimed at any moment and have virtually no way of stopping this from happening.
This type of film, when overdone, is commonly referred to as ‘torture porn.’ Goodnight Mommy treads a dangerous line between making audiences’ desperate for characters’ well being and enjoying the pain it dishes out.
Many audiences may be desensitized to this sort of thing after Saw and similar films, but Goodnight Mommy’s smaller scope helps it.
When three characters’ shaky willingness to hurt one another can cause or avoid serious harm scene after scene, it’s much more excruciating to watch than other torture films.
There’s plenty more blood and gore in Eli Roth’s mean-spirited Hostel series, but when characters are paying to torture and kill others, you already know how scenes will end.
The film’s turn somewhat negates much of what we see in the first half and it’s in a pointless late reveal that the film really loses quality.
Sure, you can see needless bits and pieces leading up to it, but the movie takes a pretty big bite out of itself in order to spit up the twist. Some meaningful themes are thrown out and the film feels a whole lot less real and thus less impactful.
Whenever the next ‘good’ horror movie is praised, it’s best to take that information with a large grain of salt. Goodnight Mommy relies too heavily on its shock to be considered a horror movie, but is too chilling to be considered anything else. I don’t enjoy torture scenes, but I did appreciate the experience the movie gave me, even if it was a reaction based one. Unless you’re really, really against any kind of torture scenes, you’ll probably be able to appreciate Goodnight Mommy’s better qualities.