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John’s Horror Corner: Goodnight Mommy (2014), the story of a mother scorned by her children’s distrust…or children scorned by an evil imposter!

February 1, 2016

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MY CALL: This Austrian film is slow but stimulating, delicate yet brutal, and simultaneously sympathetic and cold. Some may comfortably pick a side to trust, but I found my sympathies indivisible across the tortured family. I’d call that a victory despite this film’s blatant premature predictability and a “great reveal” that falls flat.
MORE MOVIES LIKE Goodnight Mommy:
The Uninvited (2009), The Visit (2015), Hide and Seek (2005), Orphan (2009) and Identity (2003), all of which do a better job at maintaining their mystery until the right time.
HOW YOU CAN WATCH IT: I saw this for free with my Amazon Prime Subscription.

Ok. Just to start out, I’d like to warn you that I confidently had this movie figured out after 12 minutes. No joke. I’m normally good at things like that–but in this case I think I was given a little too much a little too soon to piece things together a bit too prematurely. Now, hey, I still enjoyed this film. But something like this could spoil some people’s movie experience. On with the review…

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When first meet the identical twins, Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz), they are refreshingly playing outside as young boys once did before the advent of videogame consoles, Netflix and the internet. They are clearly the best of friends and do everything together from hide and seek to burping contests on their large family farm estate in the countryside.

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After returning home to recover from a terrible accident that initially goes completely unexplained, their unrecognizably bandaged mother (Susanne Wuest) is not greeted as warmly as she’d like–hardly a kind word is exchanged after the boys coldly deny her so much as a welcome home hug. Clearly any children would be shocked to see their mother’s face obscured by gauze. But this is more than that. In that moment, Mommy earns audience sympathy while being dehumanized in the boys’ eyes. It is evident that the boys doubt that this is, in fact, their mother standing before them.

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Mommy makes her best effort to return to normal, but something is off. One twin (perhaps more disrespectfully than fearfully?) doesn’t speak directly to Mommy but rather whispers in his brother’s ear and, as a result, he is treated unfavorably.

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More things hint that something is off. Mommy insists that she will not see visitors, the boys refer to what dad lets them do but he is never seen or mentioned otherwise, and Mommy essentially never even acknowledges the other brother as if implementing some form of extreme silent treatment. The boys’ somewhat surreal dreams convey the intensity of their distrust and other little hints (or red herrings?) abound, but I won’t ruin any of it for you.

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As the story endures, the boys’ distrust only amplifies and so accordingly does Mommy’s impatience for their acceptance–which is never directly addressed. Their fantasies depict her as a something monstrous and inhuman–meanwhile they literally pray for the return of their “real” mother. Ultimately, the boys and Mommy turn to extreme measures and the film shifts from psychologically uneasy to brutal.

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The greatest fault of this film–other than its blatant predictability–was that when the time came for it to reveal the truth, it just sort of “tells us.” As a whole the film still worked for me, and I’d even recommend it to anyone in search of something different from the horror genre; a change of pace. But realize that to some, this flaw may not be considered as forgivable as it was to me. Furthermore, I was delighted by the editing, cinematography and splendid acting. This was the first feature film for writer/director team Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala and I’m thrilled to see what they do next. There are some intense scenes, just a few with blood, mostly involving the threat or act of domestic violence. But we delve briefly into torture porn during the dental floss, cockroach and super glue scenes.

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This film is slow but stimulating, delicate yet brutal, and simultaneously sympathetic and cold. Some may comfortably pick whom to trust, but I found my sympathies indivisible across the tortured family. I’d call that a victory.

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For a less favorable, critical-but-fair second opinion on this film–just to hear both sides–check out this review [CLICK HERE].

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