Film Review: GOODNIGHT MOMMY (directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala)

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by Jason Rohrer on November 19, 2015

in Film


Goodnight Mommy, the creepy 2014 film from Austrian husband and wife team Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, takes over an hour to turn into an American horror movie. Before that, the story of adolescent twins trapped in a country house with their bandage-swathed mother sustains a nice tonal drive through territory mapped by Hitchcock, Godard and Polanski. Basic movie character perils, like paranoia and existential panic, develop pleasantly as the twins start to doubt their mother’s identity and to blur their own. But finally these European roots are pulled up and replaced by the New World influences of Eli Roth and M. Night Shyamalan. The garden withers.

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Called Ich Seh, Ich Seh in its original German (I See, I See, a much better title), the movie has many attractive qualities. Brothers Elias and Lukas Schwarz are extremely watchable boys, with alert, expressive and credible faces. Their performances are effectively sheltered, conveying moment while sustaining mystery. As played by Susanne Wuest, the cool, imperious mother makes a strong and vaguely monstrous villain, right down to her hideous shoes, platform sandals open-backed to expose chafed heels. Martin Gschlacht’s 35 millimeter photography works as a clean and bright, modern Teutonic counterpoint to the murky gothic proceedings.

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It’s the sort of moviegoing experience the best of which is spent trying to puzzle out layers of narrative and resonance from grave-like shallows. We don’t know why the characters have gathered; we know a tantalizing little about motivation and cause, just enough to invest us in the early events of this bucolic thriller. The payoff for such exercises, one always hopes, will be something more satisfying than the unimaginative bloody end to which these filmmakers take their carefully constructed body horror. On top of the torture, we are asked to accept a shopworn mindfuck trope. The biggest surprise at the end of this movie turns out to be that talented and meticulous filmmakers in the first quarter of the 21st century didn’t foresee the inherent disappointment of an audience educated by now to expect more from its psychological ghost stories.

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photos courtesy RADiUS-TWC

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Goodnight Mommy
2014 | Austria | 99 minutes
scheduled for US video release December 1, 2015
for information visit Goodnight Mommy

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