Each year ‘Fantastic Fest’ offers a “secret screening.” These are always huge draws, which lead to endless speculation. Their selection for 2014? The Austrian film “Goodnight Mommy” that’s one of the most unnerving and original horror films in recent memory.
The dark tale set in an isolated upscale home will draw comparisons to other European thrillers like “Funny Games” or “Borgman.” But “Mommy”, (Austrian title: “Ich Seh Ich Seh”) is far superior.
Twin boys Lukas and Elias are unsettled by their mother’s appearance and demeanor. Having recently undergone surgery, her face is concealed by bandages, and her mood sour and harsh. The children are naturally curious about their mother’s condition, and are also stressed by recent upheaval. Their parents just separated, and mother has taken down any pictures to document their father’s existence.
Content to ignore their dilemma, they spend their days preoccupied in the gorgeous countryside, always dreading what waits for them at home. Lukas is distraught to hear her reprimand Elias for talking to him. Why does she favor his brother? Surely their real mom would never do that? Which leads to boys to wonder if the bandaged woman who feels like a stranger is even their real mother at all.
Finally, the bandages come off. It’s clear the cosmetic surgery has altered her appearance causing further concern. Now she seems too nice, inauthentic.
From here things tense, and disorienting. Allegiances are questioned. Could the mother really be an imposter, or driven mad by her surgery? Or are the boys overactive imaginations clouding their judgment since their behavior begins to oddly alter as well?
It’s a predicament not easily understood by the audience. I myself was deeply conflicted when things go very, very wrong. In fact, I’m not sure when I’ve ever been so unsure of what character to trust, or even root for, because directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala expertly twist and flip the narrative.
This is a film that makes one squirm rather then jolt. Its a white knuckle ride that caused gasps throughout the theater, and a twist that hits you over the head with a hammer and has you reevaluating everything that you’ve seen previously.
“Goodnight Mommy” isn’t a film I’d look forward to watching again due to its disturbing and exhausting nature. But hats off to a masterfully directed venture, beautifully filmed, with authentic performances. It may prove the crown jewel of horror cinema for 2014.