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Goodnight Mommy (Ich Seh, Ich Seh) [AFI Fest 2014]
Other // Unrated // November 9, 2014
List Price: Unknown [Buy now and save at Fandango]
Some of the best pieces of cinema out there incite a serious sense of doubt in the audience regarding who we can trust. The goal of distorting our sense of the truth can make for one intense film that forces us to think about the smallest of details. However, since many filmmakers have come up with this idea, they must be careful by keeping it fresh by putting their own spin on it, rather than simply taking the bone structure of another feature and running with it. Writer/directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz's Goodnight Mommy has received a lot of buzz over the past few months from events, such as Venice Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival. Is this the genuinely bone-chilling horror drama that everybody is making it out to be, or are "festival goggles" to blame?
With the onset of summer, nine-year-old twin brothers Elias Schwarz (Elias Schwarz) and Lukas Schwarz (Lukas Schwarz) spend their time exploring and playing in their lonesome house in the countryside. Awaiting their mother's (Susanne Wuest) return, they begin playing in the woods and the cornfields. When she arrives bandaged after having plastic surgery, everything about their mother seems to have changed. The boys begin to doubt that this woman is actually their mother, as they start to fear what her true intentions may be.
The first set of scenes introduce Lukas and Elias, and their playfully curious personalities, as they do what they can to remain occupied. There aren't any other houses around, so they only have each other to play with. However, the tone quickly makes an ominous transition, as they enter a dark cave. The pure blackness immerses them, leading to the appearance of their mother at home. Her face is covered in bandages, and her personality seems entirely different. The family goes on to play a variety of games together, and things seem relatively normal. When one of the boys places a post-it note on their mother's forehead, she must guess the person or thing written on it. Even with numerous clues, she's unable to guess the person on it: herself. The twin boys begin to notice the clues building up that this isn't their mother. Susanne places the house on complete lockdown, as we begin to develop the same fear that this might be an entirely person, but what would she want with Lukas and Elias?
Fiala and Franz's screenplay has a "slow-burn" horror atmosphere to it that feels entirely fitting for the story. Since the plot is told from the boys' perspective, we're just as unsure about whether or not this is really Susanne as they are. Once she's finally revealed, the boys become even more puzzled, but a slight fear of what could be under the bandages has turned into an aggressive need for answers. This is when a dark mystery turns into something much more twisted. However, we begin to notice clues of our own that lead down an ever-predictable path from which the picture never recovers. Goodnight Mommy borrows a lot from other foreign horror films, making what could have quite possibly been one of the most insane reveals into a lackluster finale that we called from miles out. Soon after the credits started rolling at AFI Fest, the mumblings began of how nearly everybody saw each twist and turn at practically the complete other side of the film's duration.
From here on out, Goodnight Mommy lends itself to shock value that is sure to have every member of the audience sitting at the edge of their seats. Even though we're able to guess what's to come, nothing can prepare us from actually seeing much of it being carried out. This is a highly disturbing third act that is certain to have viewers cringing, groaning, and clenching their armrests. Even some were led to leave the theater completely. This is an effectively horrifying final act that manages to work without feeling cheesy. However, that all changes with a visit from the Red Cross looking for donations, and our predictions actually coming true. They're treated as huge reveals, but it simply isn't very impactful. Audiences are sure to be groaning as the credits begin rolling, but for a completely different reason than they were earlier. I was hoping that my predictions would be completely off the mark, but Goodnight Mommy plays right into our expectations. This is sure to leave a bad taste in your mouth when recalling what this horror film brings to the genre.
Writer/directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz have an inspired visual design that works extraordinarily well with the subject material. One of the most striking images is the first one we see of Susanne as she flickers the blinds back and forth, leaving them closed when she realizes that the boys are looking at her. The shadows and the bandages create what appears to be a demonic smile that will surely send a chill down your spine. Combined with an uncomfortable use of silence and noise, this is an atmosphere that will leave audiences feeling incredibly uneasy of what is to come. When Goodnight Mommy transitions to desiring shock value, Fiala and Franz manage to utilize a wide variety of effectively gross gags that will certainly have you trembling. Fiala and Franz use a cross as a major motif on numerous levels that truly fits in with the context of the film. This is a massively successful visual atmosphere that digs deep underneath the skin.
There's a lot to admire about Goodnight Mommy. This is a fascinating premise with a massively successful visual design. However, writer/directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz borrow far too much from other genre pictures, when it doesn't need to. The plot is so unique, and it could have walked a much more intriguing path. It's far too predictable for its own good. Nevertheless, the film has its moments of brilliance. We're kept entirely engaged throughout the running time, and it has the power to make us cringe in a way that never feels unnecessary to the story. We genuinely care about the picture's protagonists, but it's just a shame that we're treated to such an obvious set of twists and turns. Goodnight Mommy begins as an innovator, but concludes as a borrower. Rent it.
Goodnight Mommy played at AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi on November 9 and November 12.