One of the rare Austrian films not involving Michael Haneke to cross the Atlantic, Goodnight Mommy fits the description of “art-house horror”. Don’t let that deter you: This little film is as nasty and mean spirited as your average slasher, only it also offers a terrifying look into the mind of kids, whose lack of grasp on adult issues can turn dangerous very quickly.
Twin nine year-old boys Lukas and Elias move into an isolated cottage with their mother (Susanne Wuest, a find). Mom has gone through extensive facial plastic surgery, and expects peace and quiet from the kids. Practically left to their own devices, the boys have begun to suspect the aloof and often hostile woman spending all day in her room may actually not be their mommy, and they are out to prove it.
There are a couple of major twists to the narrative I won’t spoil here. Suffice to say Goodnight Mommy balances psychological dread and body horror dexterously. If the first half had me intrigued, the second had me squirming on my seat. Twins have always been a reliable source of creepiness, and Lukas and Elias are like The Shining girls if the movie was about them.
A remarkable debut for first timers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, Goodnight Mommy taps into “free-range” kids’ psyche and uncovers the risks of imagination running amok. Learned behaviors like empathy and common-sense are nowhere to be found. The hope that the family finds a way back to each other magnifies every distressing event that takes place.
If subtitles put you off, get over it. Goodnight Mommy is worth the effort. Plus the likely Hollywood remake I’m sure will have no teeth. Four confused prairie dogs.
Goodnight Mommy plays from Thursday 14th to Sunday 17th at the RPL Theatre.