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by Jordan Canahai
With Halloween this Saturday, it’s fitting to take a look at the scariest new movie playing in theaters, Goodnight Mommy, the absolutely chilling Austrian horror film which has been hyped as a new genre classic since it started making rounds on the festival circuit last year. Being something of a die-hard horror fan who’s been frequently disappointed by countless movies bearing that label, I’m happy to say Goodnight Mommy lives up to the word of mouth.
The remarkably assured debut feature from the writing/directing duo of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala takes a simple premise and transforms it into the stuff of nightmares. Like many of the best horror films (Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, The Shining) Goodnight Mommy begins as a domestic drama. The story concerns twin boys (played by real-life siblings Lukas and Elias Schwarz) who suspect something is amiss with their mother (a superb Susanne Wuest) after she returns from the hospital to their newly built country house following facial reconstructive surgery. Her unnerving appearance, a pair of blood-red eyes staring out lifelessly from behind a mask of bandages, is befitting her cold and distant treatment. She ignores Lukas entirely while enforcing strict household rules, lashing out violently towards Elias when the mischievous boys disobey her. The twins begin to suspect their mother may be an imposter, setting into motion a series of increasingly tense and frightening sequences that are every bit as creepy as the best stuff to come out of Japan in recent years.
The great triumph of Goodnight Mommy comes by way of how Franz and Fiala draw such big scares out of such a minimalist setting and cast of characters. The seclusion and beauty of the idyllic country scenery, contrasted with the cold modern architecture of the family’s home, creates a discomforting tone which pervades the film well before any horror elements come into play. When the interplay between mother and children turns violent, the film unloads one visceral scare after another, playing on our most base fears to maximum effect (anyone with a phobia of insects should probably avoid this one). Many have expressed disappointment with the plot twist in the film’s finale, but it does nothing to diminish the genuinely terrifying 90 minutes that preceded it. Goodnight Mommy is a first-rate psychological thriller that is not to be missed by casual and hardcore horror fans alike.
Watch the trailer for Goodnight Mommy
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v14n43 (HALLOWEEN ISSUE, Week of Thursday, October 29) > Goodnight Mommy
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