Imagine my surprise when I discovered Goodnight Mommy was available to stream for free via Amazon Prime. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks looking for a good, English-subtitled version, and suddenly, there it was. No cash outlay, no rummaging through questionable torrents. The movie’s been on my watch list since I saw the trailer back in November 2015, so last night I put aside the night’s plans and settled down to watch.
The content of the movie is right in my wheelhouse; a sparse cast of characters, weird behaviours, portentous scenes, questionable motives, and an is-it/isn’t-it supernatural ambiguity. Ever since I became engrossed in Weird fiction and the early work of Ramsey Campbell, character-driven horror is what I live for. Goodnight Mommy, written and directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, kind of does hit on all those things, and it’s good, but doesn’t ever hit the heights of great horror.
Set in the rural Austrian countryside, the movie plays like a modern day Grimm fairy tale. You have the cottage in the woods, in the form of an austere lakeside home of arty-contemporary design, two children in peril, and a seemingly wicked maternal figure. It’s a great setup, especially the dark prologue scenes, suffused with dreamlike weirdness reminiscent of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock . However, while the first act of the movie builds upon this, it quickly changes focus by starting to move away from the perceived central threat, so that by the midpoint, you feel as if you’re watching a different movie. In this respect, it’s similar to Martyrs , a movie of two halves if there ever was one. I did find it all quite fascinating, though I was a little turned off when the supposed malevolence of the “mother” character turns out to be something different, and a lot more ambiguous. The movie is all about the twins (played by real life twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz), as they try to adjust to the re-introduction of someone who claims to be their mother (Susanne Wuest) to their secluded lives. It’s here, early on, that the movie makes a misstep for the sake of imbuing a sense of mystery. The timeline feels wrong, and it raises too many questions – I was reminded of this by the act 2 reveal, and it distracted me from the ending a little. By the time the movie turns on its head, though, this part of the story moves along quickly (even if the pacing of the movie doesn’t). There are lots of very nice, vignette-like scenes that are typical of the “art-house” genre. The scenes build story without using much connective tissue, giving a somewhat disjointed, dispassionate perspective on the narrative, but for me they worked. I enjoyed the photography in act 2 a lot – it felt very Kubrickian in places, a style that’s easy to mimic, but not so easy to replicate authentically, and I think Goodnight Mommy did well enough to not be considered a riff.
The second half of the movie is a huge tonal shift from the first, and it just about works because it doesn’t fully embrace the played out “torture porn” genre, instead, the narrative grows organically from the midpoint to the reveal. I think there will be plenty of people who see this who will divide themselves into two camps: psychological horror, and supernatural horror. I’m firmly in the latter, because of the subtleness of one of the final scenes. The final scene choice is odd and a bit too on the nose for me, but it stays in context, I think.
Goodnight Mommy is less a horror movie than it is a dark suspense movie. It works on most levels, but ultimately feels too small and too subdued, and the reveal is somewhat predictable. At the end, I was glad I’d watched it, but came away thinking it could have been executed a lot better. Like Martyrs, I feel Goodnight Mommy is destined for a pointless remake.
This review was originally published on 2/06/2016 at https://thatsnotcurrentblog.wordpress.com