***Warning- This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk,*** Ugh. I had such high hopes for this movie. The theatrical trailer promised creepiness, atmosphere, and a chilling amount of well-thought-out psychological horror. Well, it arguably has some of these things, except maybe the well-thought-out part. Disclaimer- Goodnight Mommy is visually beautiful and atmospheric, set in the scenic location of rural Austria. But as good as it looks, a movie like this needs a satisfying payoff. And that, my friends, is where the film seriously disappoints.
Beware, potential viewers, this is when I get into big spoiler territory- to comment on how Goodnight Mommy fails as a narrative and a horror film. The movie has a deliciously spooky premise, as two nine-year-old twin brothers Lukas and Elias (Played by Lukas and Elias Schwartz) wait for their mother (Suzanne Wuest) in their isolated house, only to have her return covered in bandages and not the same loving woman as she was before her operation.
Whether she’s literally not the same woman or just has suffered a drastic change psychologically is anyone’s guess. This woman-creature, however, is about as far from ‘motherly’ as it is possible to be, slapping her sons around, sleeping with the shades drawn all day, and gobbling cockroaches. Understandably perturbed, the boys decide to investigate.
Initially, we are treated to a visually sumptuous, intriguing build-up, with the boys simply occupying the exclusive, enthralling, and slightly spooky and sinister world they share together. They wander into caves, run through cornfields, and and at one point enter a underground room which is inexplicably littered with human bones to retrieve a yowling stray cat. Mom’s not well, so they pretty much do their own thing, and this childhood drama laced with the uncanny and outright horror is weirdly compelling.
However, when mom starts addressing one boy and acting as if the other doesn’t exist, I had one fervent plea to ask of the script- ‘please don’t let one twin be dead and the other hallucinating him.’ That’s like, the biggest cop-out twist that it’s possible to incorporate in a movie like this. Well, the film devolves near the end into virtual torture porn, where the little boys brutalize their mother for information. She says she’s their real mama, but they don’t believe it. The long, lingering violence perpetrated by two little kids is unnerving, but not necessary or crucial to the narrative either, like a sick joke with a pitch-black punchline.
I sat through it, albeit in relative discomfort, hoping for a kick-ass twist that would exceed my expectations. But no, they insisted on going down that road. The road with the dead kid and his grief-stricken twin too traumatized, or too bat crap- crazy, to acknowledge his loss. Didn’t The Other by Thomas Tryon already do this to better effect? (the book, which was outstanding, not the movie, which is arguably worse than this one.)
There are a handful of creepy moments to be had here (just seeing the mother swathed in bandages is enough to give me the willies.) Mostly it is an overlong (even at 99 minutes) movie which stretches out it’s screen time by featuring unnecessary visits from unnecessary additions to a paper thin script. That would be okay if the twist was worth half a turd squirt. It isn’t. Many small horror films with ultimately little to say can achieve a near-perfect balancing act from their chilling sense of suspense and mounting dread.
Take the movie Honeymoon. it’s a small, modest, low-budget horror. It works at holding our rapt attention. The Living and the Dead has a tiny plot (a woman with cancer imprisoned in her house by her irrational son) and could certainly be cut down ten minutes or so but somehow it earns our grief and sympathy. Goodnight Mommy has a spectacularly Gothic atmosphere (despite being set in a modern-style pad) and is even chilling at times, but ultimately lets us down with it’s distinct lack of anything new, innovative, or original to offer.