Directors: Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala
Year: 2014
Country: Austria

This is the second horror film I’ve entered for the challenge, after The Skin (Antigua). But while The Skin played up its camp and low-budget charm, Goodnight Mommy is, by design, cold, unflinching, and not for the fainthearted.

The film begins by introducing Elias and Lukas, two identical twin brothers living in an isolated house in the countryside. Their mother has just come home after an extensive facial surgery, swathed in bandages.

The boys soon realise that something’s off. This bandaged woman certainly sounds like their mother, but her behaviour seems much more cruel and bizarre. She forbids them from speaking to each other or playing inside the house, keeps the blinds closed all day, and is prone to sudden, angry outbursts. Elias and Lukas begin to wonder whether it really is their mother under those bandages, or if she’s been replaced by some sinister imposter.

Elias and Lukas are taken aback by their mother’s apparent personality shift.

Determined to find the truth, the boys begin an investigation that quickly resorts to extreme measures. I’ll avoid specifics, but there are some hard-to-watch “interrogation” scenes that leave the audience conflicted about who, if anyone, deserves their sympathies.

Each member of the family comes across as sinister and creepy at some point or other.

That ambiguity serves the film well. For every suspicious behaviour that supports the boys’ theories, there’s a persistent suggestion that it really is their own mother that they’re tormenting. But even for astute viewers, who will be able to guess the twist from a couple of revealing early scenes, the film has a deeply unsettling, paranoia-inducing quality that makes it highly effective.

There are no jumpscares worth mentioning in Goodnight Mommy, nor an excess of gore, nor a CGI monster. The film’s distinctive flavour of horror is much more insidious and subtle than that, and all the more frightening because of it. Horror fans thrive on this kind of stuff, but it’s hard to recommend Goodnight Mommy to anybody else.


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