Release date: 4 March 2016
Running time: 99 min
Directors: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz
Starring: Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Susanne Wuest
Unsettling from the opening moments, this Austrian psychological horror from directors Severin Fiala and Veronica Franz keeps its cards pretty close to its chest throughout. We are given an intriguing set-up as our way in; two boys living in a modern, remote lakeside house with their mother, who has just undergone significant cosmetic facial surgery. Goodnight Mommy is intentionally secretive, preferring to create an overwhelming feeling of dread through impeccable sound editing and subtle shifts in perspective.
No-one is coming out and directly saying it, but there is something seriously wrong here. It plays on your expectations of the horror genre to create fear and disgust, while actually doing very little. It’s less concerned about you connecting with character, and more about embracing the overall mood of the film, something it achieves with chilling aplomb. With a focus on the family unit, complete with an absent father and a strained relationships between mother and child, Goodnight Mommy is something of a European cousin to Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. While not as accessible as Kent’s sublime horror- Fiala and Franz don’t concern themselves with trivial matters like back story and expositional conversations- the two are tonally very similar. The atmosphere in both homes is rife with repression and grief.
It has always been the job of good horror to reflect the larger fears of society through the use of fantastical boogeymen. Just as Godzilla represented the fears of the Japanese public following the devastation of the atomic bomb, or vampire movies of the 80’s and 90’s reflected the panic which followed the outbreak of the AIDS virus, Goodnight Mommy is indicative of a society only now confronting the taboos surrounding mental illness.
Our main characters are essentially a pair of creepy twins and a deformed monster (with a dash of wicked stepmother), but there is nothing otherworldly or paranormal on display. Rather than relying on jump scares or demons lurking in the closet, the main focus is on the all too real horrors of paranoia and PTSD. The human mind is capable of creating terror just as destructive as any werewolf, zombie or axe murderer. Let’s hope this new era of horror continues to impress and surprise us.
Goodnight Mommy is screening at the GFT on Sunday, 21st February as part of the Glasgow Film Festival and will be on general release on 4th March.