Goodnight Mommy


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

Goodnight Mommy
"Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s film is one entirely about small details."

Ich Seh Ich Seh (Goodnight Mommy) starts of on grand form. Skin crawling audio thunders out of the screen sounding like warped vinyl of a kitsch 1950s German lullaby album being played through a rusty hypodermic on some haunted turntable. The ante is only upped a few scenes later when it becomes apparent that the twins of this buzz generating horror flick wear crocs. Nothing Polanski or Craven could come up with could ever hope to top the unbridled horror of such horrendous - yet comfy - footwear.

Such a detail might seen like a pointless thing to pick up on, but Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s film is one entirely about small details. Lukas and Elias Schwarz - who keep their names in the film - are dressed in those awful rubber sandals to reinforce their innocence. All gangly limbs and boyish curls, they are shown, in early scenes, exploring the vast woodlands around their home, entering ominous caves as the camera focuses too intently on the backs of their heads for comfort. When their mother (Susanne Wuest) returns, she’s undergone extensive plastic surgery and her bandaged death mask is the stuff that would definitely show up on a list of nightmares inspired by famous horror films like Eyes Without A Face. The twins' preadolescent naivety and the mother’s grotesque visage and unnervingly strict rules are played off against each other to create a dynamic that refuses to give up any slack.

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Fiala and Franz make great use of the austere, prison like setting too. A modern house that’s all marble, stone and glass, it manages to feel claustrophobic and sepulchre like with a simple lowering of blinds. The unsettling, shadowy photographs (presumably of the mother) that loom over characters in many shots only add to the bristling sense of uneasiness. Placid and still cinematography is the order of the day, and it’s pretty refreshing. Like It Follows last year, the camera is disturbing in its defiance - it rarely looks away from the action, and in the third act this results in some truly wince inducing household torture.

When the camera does get mobile, it is usually when the action makes brief sojourns to the woods surrounding the house. The depth of focus in these scenes causes the endless trees to feel like a house of mirrors, and as the twins run between the trees some excellent editing sees them leave the frame only to loop back into it from the wrong side. Elsewhere the use of dark spaces and doorways mean that omission and denial are threaded through style and narrative.

However, it’s that narrative that feels like the film’s weakest link, or at the very least its subtlety is in danger of being buried by the more visceral elements of the film. There’s not really a puzzle or a mystery in Ich Seh Ich Seh as the pieces are very much laid bare in the first act. As the narrative tries to contort itself around facts with sly hints about events prior to the film, it manages to knock pieces of expository decoration off shelves, spreading itself too thin and causing a bit of a mess. This ends up being a shame, because the real strength is in the way the film aligns you between its three characters, and how this shifts through the film in a manner that feels smooth and almost unnoticeable: by the time the third act hits its stride, it’s easy to forget that you were rooting for a totally different outcome just minutes earlier.

On reflection, it seems like the strength of the film lies not in its obfuscating narrative but more in the references and nods to its own fiction that it builds up. Vague and meandering opening scenes begin to quicken into something that’s more than just childish exploration as cats and cockroaches suffer fates that call back those earlier innocent moments and lend them a sinister gloss. Whilst it doesn’t feel like the paradigm shift that was It Follows, and perhaps doesn’t do quite enough to separate itself from A Tale Of Two Sisters, Ich Seh Ich Seh is an efficient and atmospheric horror that capitalises on its eerie premise, and contains more than enough stomach turning moments to satisfy those who err more on the side of blood than brains.

Reviewed on: 20 Feb 2016
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Goodnight Mommy packshot
Twin boys suspect that their mum, who has just undergone reconstructive facial surgery, is an imposter and set out to discover the truth.
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Director: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz

Writer: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz

Starring: Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz

Year: 2014

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: Austria

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