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Goodnight, Mommy

Susanne Wuest stars in the Austrian horror film Goodnight, Mommy (Image  ©  RADiUS). 

Susanne Wuest stars in the Austrian horror film Goodnight, Mommy (Image © RADiUS). 

Twin boys play alone in a cornfield in a farm in a foreign land. They’re about eight or so, and seemingly quite content. Eventually, their mother arrives at home. She has bandages around her head and face. It’s the result of an unexplained “operation”. She’s withdrawn in her bedroom nearly all day and night, and when she does venture out into the rest of the house, she’s cold to her sons, visibly angry, even violent. She won’t speak to her son Lukas, and will only speak sparingly to her other son, Elias. And she says they know why. Soon Lukas and Elias decide that this woman is not their mother at all, but some sort of imposter wrapped in bandages.

It’s all very, very strange. Austrian filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz have come up with a winner, here. The atmosphere is creepy and unnerving throughout, and the casting of the boys is excellent. Finding a great child actor is difficult. Finding twin great child actors in a country as small as Austria must be nearly impossible. Fiala and Franz pull it off, though, for the most part. There are times when a stronger emotional reaction to the events on the screen from one of both of the boys would’ve been called for, but instead we often get them reacting stone-faced, probably because the directors wisely knew the boys couldn’t pull off the heavy emoting. The “less is more” approach works well, though, particularly with child actors.

The trailers and the marketing are calling this a horror film, and while there are certainly scary moments, it’s more like a film that is deeply upsetting than actually scary. And be warned, not for the faint of heart. There are some truly gruesome bits of violence in the final act. No, we’re not talking Hostel or Saw-level of violence, here. It’s much less over-the-top than that, which makes it all the more plausible and difficult to watch. There were plenty of laced-fingers over the eyes in my theatre, including my own. There’s also a shocking twist in the end, the some reviewers have complained was too obvious, but I was completely caught unaware, and I must confess, in tears a bit.

But what makes this movie truly special is not the gruesome violence, not the twist, and not the acting. It’s that the movie has a true heart. We’re meant very much to care about these boys in a way that most horror movies are unconcerned with regarding their characters. That’s an absolute rarity in horror, and a true surprise. It’s worth a viewing for sure. Just remember there’s nothing shameful about watching through laced fingers.