Day 5: Female-Helmed Horror Movies for OctoberGoodnight Mommy
Written and Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala
1 hour, 40 minutes
I watched it on iTunes.
This is my absolute favorite so far. Genuinely disturbing and probing, this is exactly why I’m so in love with horror movies. It’s so rare that any movie, let alone a horror film, gets into it and explores the darker side of parenthood. Even as “Goodnight Mommy” goes more realistic for the second half, with its harsh lighting and attention to the process of what torture might be like if you’ve never done it before, it still feels like a parable of how close families can be to just falling into chaos. Horror gives you a chance to write or experience an extreme version of your every day fears. Does your mother or child drive you crazy? Do you feel like you can’t connect with them? Let’s make an intense horror movie on the subject and you get to work your brain out on it. It’s a healthy catharsis. That said, there’s a prolonged torture sequence in this movie, so be forewarned. But it’s never played for shock value. Every move made is toward a narrative end, and you can see the constant mixed feelings on the torturer’s face.
The Mother (Susanne Wuest) returns home from plastic surgery on her face, huge bandages all over her head, and immediately, her twin sons, Elias and Lukas (Elias Schwarz and Lukas Schwarz), suspect that she’s an imposter. You can certainly understand how 8-year-old boys would be terrified by seeing their mother come home like that, not to mention the fatigue and frustration that would come with still trying to parent so soon after a surgery. But then The Mother just makes one extreme choice after another. She needs absolute silence in the house to recover. She needs the shades drawn so she doesn’t get direct sunlight on her healing face. And when she’s mad at one of the twins, she just plain doesn’t feed them. And then it gets more and more outright abusive. But the whole time, Wuest (and the filmmakers) are so convincing that the mystery feels strong throughout. The Mother is going through a divorce, just had surgery (unclear as to why), and now her boys are rebelling. She’s often crying alone, such a relatable sight for any parent that’s felt they were too harsh in a moment with their children. Or it could be that The Mother is crying from the pressure of pretending to be The Mother. Or is she actually The Mother and she’s crying from the pressure of continuing to mother when she’s recovering from surgery and a divorce? There’s a great, chilling bit where one of the boys comes in to try to talk to his mom, but she’s sleeping. He leaves and then she snaps open her eyes and continues to chew what’s in her mouth. Does she just need a minute to enjoy her snack in peace or is she outright avoiding them as much as possible?
It’s still such an unfortunate taboo to talk about how very hard motherhood can be. Just the daily grind of keeping them safe and healthy is hard enough, not to mention their emotional lives and your own. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done; sure, that adage is true. But it’s also the most trying. And it is so moving to see that depicted with such sympathy and dread here.
The trio cast is fantastic. The setting is so damn inspired and isolated and too cool for its own good, which only adds to the coolness of the mother and sons’ relationship. And there are so many inspired details: the imprisoned bugs in a big aquarium, the superglue, the cat, those masks, the wearing high-heeled wedges and a summer dress around your house by yourself on a rainy day. The film was submitted by Austria for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but alas, it wasn’t even nominated, which is a shame. “Goodnight Mommy” is a staggering work and I’m so curious as to what Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala explore in their upcoming works, which look to include segments in a horror anthology film called “The Field Guide to Evil” and their own feature, “The Lodge.”