Like many a great horror/thriller film, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s “Goodnight Mommy” makes for tough conversation around those yet to experience its unnerving power. Key twists and turns dominate the conversation after the film’s disturbing final shot, but they alone are not responsible for the overall impact. The shocking conclusion does not need to redeem what comes before; it just gets to further drive home the prior eerie effectiveness.
Fiala and Franz pack “Goodnight Mommy” full of red herrings and MacGuffins to throw us off the scent of what is actually going on in the film. (That’s all I have to say – see it for yourself, don’t let me spoil anything.) At a certain point, it becomes clear that the writer/director pair do not intend to answer all the bizarre occurrences in the film. Those include, but are not limited to, kids keeping a tank of live cockroaches and traipsing through a cave full of presumptively human skulls in their Crocs.
Twin brothers Lukas and Elias (played by the two Schwarz kids who bear those names) lash out in an increasingly disturbing manner at the occupying force in their household who wears a veritable headdress of bandages. She (Susanne Wuest) claims to be their mother, but the children remain unconvinced. As tension mounts between the opposing parties, both sides act with increasingly erratic behavior. Over time, however, Lukas and Elias clearly begin preparing for an all-out war against their so-called mommy.
Fiala and Franz shooting style adapts with the twins’ bellicosity, beginning with an apparition-like remove from the proceedings and then moving to an all-out cinema of cruelty approach that rivals the best of Michael Haneke. They also love the quick cut to black after a tense scene, which also mimics the general sensation of watching “Goodnight Mommy.” We follow along, treading carefully, only to have our stomachs plunged into the abyss by a startling punctuation mark. Good luck getting a good night’s sleep after this one… B+ /