Directed by: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz
Starring: Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Susanne Wuest
Elias and Lukas, twin brothers, eagerly await the return of their mother after she has undergone reconstructive surgery. However they are unsettled by her appearance - her head and face obscured by bandages - and her strange, cold demeanour, which lead them to believe that perhaps this person isn't their mother after all...
Good Night Mommy is an exemplary piece of psychological horror which will have you replaying details through your mind long after its over, and is one of few films to make me shout out loud while watching it, squirming in my seat as i did so.
The film is beautifully shot, with the exteriors basking in the summer sun while the interiors are subtle plays of light and shade. When Mother returns home, she explains that she needs to stay away from sunlight so a lot of the rooms have their blinds drawn closed, or half open, creating interesting shades of grey throughout the house.
The performances from the three leads are great, and each provides a very unsettling persona. The twin boys are inseparable, love each other dearly and can play anywhere all day long. The have the usual boyish interests in insects (one of them has a collection of hissing cockroaches, their bedroom has a wallpaper covered in ants), bodily functions (a disgusting burping competition) and exploring. The two young actors give an effortlessly natural performance, not surprising since they are actually twins, and share their first names with their characters. Meanwhile Susanne Wuest is formidable as Mother, giving off a very alien vibe in her movements and actions. There's a vulnerability to her as well, underneath the harsh exterior.
The script deals with its central premise in an incredibly nuanced and thoughtful way. This isn't a straight-up tale about monsters, its much more layered than that. When you consider the age of the boys and the details that either they are not aware of or just don't understand, you can see how they would jump to their conclusions. At the same time, you can understand how Mother's demeanour might change following reconstructive surgery and an emotional, traumatic divorce - things a young boy might not be able to process for himself. But then again there are other aspects of Mother's behaviour, such as her seemingly cruel punishments, which aren't so easily explained...
The directing/writing duo of Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz know not only how to build the tension throughout the film but also when to release the audience, doing so with two stand-out scenes, both involving the aforementioned cockroaches (which are as big as your hand). The first of these scenes will definitely freak out a large part of the people watching, but it was the second which had me personally lurching forward in my seat and swearing out loud.
Will viewers guess at what is really going on? I personally didn't and was in for quite a shock. In retrospect, I can see that there were visual and verbal clues throughout the film which were hiding in plain site, merely obscured by clever misdirection.
Good Night Mommy is a very unsettling film, making you think hard to figure out whether this is merely a family undergoing a traumatic transition or if something more horrific is at hand. The film keeps its cards very close to its chest whilst simultaneously giving you all the information you need to figure it out. Just watch out for those cockroach scenes though...
9 out of 10 (MikeOutWest)
GOODNIGHT MOMMY will be in UK cinemas on 4th March 2016