Happy Halloween, y’all! I’ve been asked by Cory to step in for a day and spell him as he got a fever from watching all these horror films. He’ll be fine for the second half of October, I’m sure – he just needs a brief respite, and I actually saw a film he hasn’t: Goodnight Mommy.
This modest foreign thriller that presents itself as a horror might remind one of the great Pedro Almodovar scare from a few years ago starring Antonio Banderas: The Skin I Live In (2011). That Spanish film takes its cues from an even better psychological horror from 1960 – the French/Italian Eyes Without a Face. Suffice it to say, they evoke a certain image, one of a person trapped behind a mask of bandages. Much like the classic Twilight Zone episode “Eye of the Beholder”, when we can’t see beyond beauty it often becomes mistaken for their true character.
Goodnight Mommy comes from the Austrian art house scene, so expect mild mood setting panoramic shots of the countryside, beset only with a farmhouse and young children playing in the field. This is how our journey begins, but soon we learn that a tragic accident has left the boys’ mother with a fully bandaged face. The boys refuse to believe that this new figure in their home is indeed their mother, and it seems to be that the children have experienced Capgras syndrome.
What is Capgras syndrome, you ask? It’s a disorder in which a person holds a delusion that a friend, spouse, parent or otherwise close family member has been replaced by an identical-looking imposter. That’s an impossibly ripe disease to mine for cinematic purposes, no? Well, Goodnight Mommy squanders it eventually, but not before presenting some scenes rife with tension when the mother first comes home from the hospital. This woman, played with brilliant self-hatred by Susanne Wuest, wanders the house like a phantom. She saunters through room after room as the boys (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) play their own twisted version of hide-and-seek.
As the film simmers through its mid-portion, the boys come to a decision about this sinister figure that has taken the place of their mother. They plot to trap the woman, tying her to a bed as she sleeps. The film only gets more gruesome from there. If you’re at all queasy, the second half is not for you. It’s not a Hostel film, but there are some decidedly uncomfortable moments as the boys interrogate their fake mother. There’s also a wickedly funny scene as two members of the Red Cross come to the homestead imploring the family for some charity donations. Elias, the more intuitive of the twins, baits the workers and steals money from the imposter’s purse before our heroine can break free of a taped mouth and scream for help.
All in all, the time taken to build up the tension is worth it, as it becomes quite palatable. However, as some of the twists in the film take form, the direction’s a tad too obvious from the filmmakers. If you’re a persistent purveyor of foreign horror films that focus on twin children, you’ll see where I’m coming from. The finale leaves you a bit wanting, much like the boys for their mother.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars