×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Venice Film Review: ‘Goodnight Mommy’

Twins suspect someone is impersonating their mother in creepy psychological horror movie from up-and-coming Austrian duo

With:
Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz. (German dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3086442

A fairy tale for “Dogtooth” enthusiasts, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s “Goodnight Mommy” takes place in an austere, isolated Austrian home, where twin boys begin to suspect that something is wrong with their mother. But that’s only the beginning of this family’s dysfunction, as tension escalates to torture in the duo’s elegantly stylized, thoroughly unnerving attempt to creep the heck out of arthouse horror fans. The project, which recalls such child-centric chillers as “I’m Not Scared” and “The Orphanage,” was backed by fest vet Ulrich Seidl (for whom Franz co-wrote several pics), allowing it to court both genre and auteur fests.

Mommy looks monstrous when she comes home from the hospital, her body sexy but her face wrapped entirely in bandages. The clues are scarce at first, slyly delivered through a game of “Who am I?” where yes/no questions help us (but not her) identify the answer stuck to her head: Mama. Why doesn’t she recognize herself in this game? What happened to her face? And is that really her under all that gauze?

At least the kids have each other. That seems to be the one thing stopping this scary-looking woman, who comes across like a cold-blooded update on the evil-stepmother archetype, from doing something really cruel to one of them. Already she seems to favor Lukas over his brother Elias, refusing to speak to the latter and demanding absolute quiet while she recovers in a house that, while elegant, seems to have been decorated by a psychopath.

No wonder the twins (played by Lukas and Elias Schwarz) prefer to spend their time outdoors. They are always together, doing things ordinary kids do: playing hide-and-seek in the cornfield, throwing hailstones in the storm and sneaking a stray cat into their bedroom behind their mother’s back. But they also do things that, frankly, seem a little weird, like collecting big, gross beetles in a giant tank and hiding a baby monitor under mommy’s bed.

Something’s not right with these kids, but you can’t quite put your finger on it until they spring into action. Just as mom’s bandages start to come off, revealing a face just a little too perfect, they tie her up and demand to know what’s become of their real mother. Where are our loyalties now: Are we still with the twins, or does our allegiance shift to the mother?

Shooting in sleek 35mm, Franz and Fiala have dreamt up a home-invasion scenario where the aggressors lived there all along, like the children in Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt,” who lock their parents to their playroom to be devoured by lions. It was her or them, and in a freaky flip on things, it’s the kids who make the preemptive strike. Come to think of it, they were always hovering, doing that weird thing that only twins can where they speak in riddle and seem to read each other’s thoughts.

A hefty part of the suspense stems from the fact no one seems to be behaving rationally: not mommy, not the kids. They’re cut off from others, getting frozen food delivered in bulk so they don’t have to go into town. Dad is mentioned, but never seen. All of his photos have been banished from the house. But what about that strange image that mom left in the album, the one where she’s posed with a woman who appears to be her twin?

The twist — more an explanation really — reveals itself early here, doing so discreetly enough that only a fraction of the audience will pick up on it, promising wildly different viewing experiences for all. Still, best to let you discover the perversities for yourself. Suffice it to say, the pic’s reality is not our own — more akin to fellow Austrian Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games,” where psychology offers limited insights into human behavior and the body-horror moments feel nerve-twistingly raw.

Here, the helmers are clever in how they construct each scene so that everything can be explained, even certain impossible moments that seem to unfold only in the kids’ heads — dreams, maybe. Though even the waking moments have a nightmarish feel, which should serve this movie well when it goes out into the world and earn the directors eager fans for whatever they do next.

Venice Film Review: 'Goodnight Mommy'

Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Also in Toronto Film Festival, Vanguard), Sept. 1, 2014. Running time: 100 MIN. (Original title: “Ich seh, Ich seh.”)

Production: (Austria) An Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion production. (International sales: Films Distribution, Paris.) Produced by Ulrich Seidl. Executive producer, Louis Oellerer.

Crew: Directed, written by Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala. Camera (color, widescreen), Martin Gschlacht; editor, Michael Palm; music, Olga Neuwirth; production designers, Hubert Klausner, Johannes Salat; sound, Matz Muller, Tobias Fleig, Erik Mischijew; stunt coordinator; Tissi Brandhoffer; casting, Eva Roth.

With: Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz. (German dialogue)

More Film

  • Atlantics

    Netflix Snags Worldwide Rights to Cannes Winners 'Atlantics,' 'I Lost My Body'

    Mati Diop’s feature directorial debut “Atlantics” and Jérémy Clapin’s animated favorite “I Lost My Body” have both been acquired by Netflix following wins at Cannes Film Festival. “Atlantics” was awarded the grand prix while “I Lost My Body” was voted the best film at the independent International Critics Week. The deals are for worldwide rights [...]

  • Stan Lee, left, and Keya Morgan

    Stan Lee's Former Business Manager Arrested on Elder Abuse Charges

    Stan Lee’s former business manager, Keya Morgan, was arrested in Arizona Saturday morning on an outstanding warrant from the Los Angeles Police Department. The LAPD’s Mike Lopez confirmed that the arrest warrant was for the following charges: one count of false imprisonment – elder adult; three counts of grand theft from elder or dependent adult, [...]

  • Moby attends the LA premiere of

    Moby Apologizes to Natalie Portman Over Book Controversy

    Moby has issued an apology of sorts after writing in his recently published memoir “Then It Fell Apart” that he dated Natalie Portman when she was 20 — a claim the actress refuted. “As some time has passed I’ve realized that many of the criticisms leveled at me regarding my inclusion of Natalie in Then [...]

  • Bong Joon-ho reacts after winning the

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins the Palme d'Or at Cannes

    CANNES — The 72nd edition of the Cannes Film Festival wrapped with jury president Alejandro González Iñárritu announcing the group’s unanimous decision to award the Palme d’Or to South Korean director Bong Joon-ho for his sly, politically charged “Parasite.” Following last year’s win for humanistic Japanese drama “Shoplifters,” the well-reviewed Asian thriller represents the yin [...]

  • Invisible Life Brazilian Cinema

    Cannes Film Review: 'The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão'

    A “tropical melodrama” is how the marketing materials bill “The Invisible Life of Eurídice Gusmão.” If that sounds about the most high-camp subgenre ever devised, Karim Aïnouz’s ravishing period saga lives up to the description — high emotion articulated with utmost sincerity and heady stylistic excess, all in the perspiring environs of midcentury Rio de [...]

  • Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The 10 Best Movies of Cannes 2019

    The Cannes Film Festival is too rich an event to truly have an “off” year, but by the end of the 72nd edition, it was more or less universally acknowledged that the festival had regained a full-on, holy-moutaintop-of-art luster that was a bit lacking the year before. It helps, of course, to have headline-making movies [...]

  • Aladdin

    'Aladdin' Soaring to $100 Million-Plus Memorial Day Weekend Debut

    Disney’s live-action “Aladdin” remake is on its way to a commendable Memorial Day weekend debut with an estimated $109 million over the four-day period. The musical fantasy starring Will Smith and Mena Massoud should uncover about $87 million in its first three days from 4,476 North American theaters after taking in $31 million on Friday. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content