Goodnight Mommy [2014]

Goodnight Mommy chronicles twin brothers and best friends Lukas and Elias, who become concerned that the woman who returns home after undergoing some sort of facial plastic surgery is not their mother. The fact that their supposed mother’s face is covered in bandages and she barely speaks probably does not do much to help her case.

A promising premise. Although the premise alone made me feel uneasy before setting foot in the theater, the movie is not super tense and engrossing right off the bat. Sure, Lukas and Elias are first shown happily goofing off in the beautiful Austrian countryside, but when their mother returns from her operation, the tone does not transition as jarringly as I expected. Things don’t go from happy to scary on the drop of a hat. In fact, our first introduction to the mother is when she returns from her operation all bandaged and quiet. Since we never see her acting “normally,” the twins’ suspicion of her emotional distance and strictness feels a bit out of place. While I was definitely intrigued and curious, the movie did not suck me into its plot as quickly as its premise sucked me into the theater.

Something Ikea this way comes. A significant part of what did eventually suck me in was the movie’s aesthetic. Everything about the movie screams Europe. The house, which serves as the setting for virtually the entire film, is as minimalist and impeccably clean as anything you’d see at an Ikea store (except for a nasty cockroach problem, which is one of the few things in the film that seemed exist only for scary shock value). The boys, played by Lukas and Elias Schwarz, are incredibly skinny and lanky, probably from their incessant outdoor playing. The mother has the svelte, healthy physique that we Americans are always lead to believe is the result of Europeans’ more active and health-conscious lifestyle. Of course, the simple fact that a movie looks European or foreign doesn’t make it any scarier, but such attention to detail makes the house a character of its own.

A torturous twist.  As the film progresses through its just-right 99 minute running time, the twist ending may become fairly obvious to even a journeyman horror film viewer. Thankfully, the suspense in this movie almost feels like a bonus since the characters are so well drawn and the setting so perfectly materialized that I was on board regardless of the twists and turns in the plot. Unfortunately, though, there is a fairly gory, torture-porn-esque sequence towards the end whose gore level probably could have been scaled down a bit at no cost to the scene’s effectiveness. Regardless, the film’s conclusion gave me a case of the heebie-jeebies that genuinely sent a chill through my spine. And it made me really contemplate why my spine was so chilled.

Appealing to both genre fans and skeptics alike, Goodnight Mommy manages to provide genuine scares that are bolstered by a strong premise and an acutely designed setting.

Watch Goodnight Mommy via Amazon