Goodnight Mommy, from Austrian directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, is a horror with many niche directions and approaches to the genre – for instance, dialogue wasn’t overly frequent as the film relies more on creating a traditional psychological horror atmosphere than telling the audience what is happening. This atmospheric tension is persistent from the first few seconds to the very last moments of the narrative, so if you were expecting to be eased into a sense of viewer vulnerability then blame the vast array of cheap and cheesy horror films saturating the market that have lulled you into this mind-set. Goodnight Mommy definitely takes an alternative direction to most blockbuster horrors and the viewing experience feels notably different to that of a Paranormal Activity or Insidious horror flick.
Goodnight Mommy opens with a very remote yet stylistically modern standalone lake house in what is presumably the Austrian countryside. Not long into the film after being introduced to the two twins – who in themselves are already relatively creepy (kids in horror films are bad enough) – their TV presenter mother arrives home post-reconstructive facial surgery, completely clad in bandages. The mother straight away seems off, her nature is ominous and she never seems to move with much purpose, always keeping a watchful eye on her two children and a strict rule over all their actions. The audience is made fully aware of the sense of unknown or alien that the twins begin to notice in their mummy-like mommy as they play a sort of guess who game, writing “Mama” on a post-it note and sticking it to her forehead. She proceeds to guess things/names as the twins become more and more confused as their hints about the answer being her become more and more blatantly obvious, or so they would think.
The psychological aspects of this film are done extremely well; it admittedly had me second guessing myself through its entirety as I attempted to unravel the secrets behind the plot and the vexing and disturbing nature of the characters. However, it must be said that although the psychological thriller/horror aspects of the film are done well, the pacing of the film, especially due to its sustained level of tension, becomes somewhat mundane to a point where I wasn’t frightened at all but more frustrated with certain characters’ approaches and behaviours. There were definitely some scenes in this film that felt as though they were designed only to be used in trailers and promotional footage to throw the viewer off the main plot, which is understandable, but it became more frustrating than intriguing.
An aspect that was implemented effectively was the lack of dialogue in large sequences, allowing the viewer to understand the world of the twins very well; their close brotherly relationship is not only extremely realistic but quite moving at points as they are clearly very distressed for one another and their mother throughout the film. However, there is a distinct change in pacing about three quarters into the film to the point where I felt I’d been watching two very different films; the latter being not as delicately handled as the first. I feel this will split the audience opinion on whether this stopped the film in its tracks and wasn’t as enjoyable or that it really increased the horror aspects of the film through an alternative approach.
Goodnight Mommy was certainly an experience unlike any I could compare it to without using multiple films and techniques, allowing me to understand how it has received such a positive response from a large number of critics globally. Although I feel if you seek to be frightened instead you will be met with mild frustration, but an intense thriller that intrigues and even horrifies at times – especially when the twins first appear on-screen wearing identical pairs of crocs, a truly haunting image.