Director: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz
Cast: Elias Schwarz, Lucas Schwarz, Susanne Wuest
Spoilers Within: Yes
Originally posted 17th March 2016 on Letterboxd.
It’s simply not possible to give a thorough review of Goodnight Mommy without exposing all the details of its twisty nature, but then, the shockingly crap twist is revealed almost immediately after the title card. Unless you’ve seen it, this review was hidden, so reading on assumes that you want to know the dull ending.
Yes, Lukas is dead. If you didn’t see that coming, then you’ve either never seen a film before, or are just exceptionally easy to deceive. From the very first moment Elias asks the Mother to also make breakfast for his brother, the gears turn and start the wheel in motion, and from then on it’s entirely evident that Lukas is a figment of Elias’ imagination that neither the Mother, or the two moronic fucking Red Cross characters (more on them later) could see.
Due to the nature of this genre and having come accustomed to films pulling a trick only to have it go the opposite way, I was second-guessing my own ability in speculating the twist; it was either that writers had imagined they were creating a smart move to try and turn the ‘ghost’ child concept on its head by playing their hand from the beginning, or have a sudden narrative twist where everything was exactly as it seemed and the Mother and others were ignoring him a living child. Whichever way the film concluded, I wouldn’t have been satisfied. The way it did end was bad enough, but imagine spending the entire film being fed the information to make you (accurately) guess the ending, only for him to be alive. Either result would have been as cheap a move as the dreadful dream sequences, which again tried to blindside you into thinking the film was about something totally different e.g. demonic possession and/or creature feature.
Now, the brothers: Lukas and Elias were so unfathomably stiff in their roles that I truly question whether they like each other as brothers when off the set. None of the innocent brotherly fun felt authentic at all; from frolicking around in a hailstorm to exploring their vast estate, all of their actions were delivered with a blankness that was – basically – really fucking irritating to watch. It felt as though the directors (Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, who also served as writers) had to push them into a relationship that shoul’ve needed no encouragement from brothers with a true connection. Or maybe they hate each other as much as I hated their characters.
This problem with Lukas and Elias doesn’t solely fall upon them, but also the directing and writing. Their one-dimensional characters with the obvious sign-posted revelation of a ghost brother wasn’t at all interesting to watch. At one time I had to pause it to check IMDb to see if they were real brothers or an Armie Hammer in The Social Network facial-mapping situation. Seriously.
In regards to the feats of strength that Elias pulls off (remember, Lukas is dead so can’t physically help) I totally, 100% do not buy a wiry boy doing this. Having Elias drag his Mother through a house and then literally gluing her to the floor is absurd. Have you ever tried dragging an unhelpful, drunk person across the floor? It’s difficult enough as an adult pulling an adult, so Elias capably dragging her across the floor? Nah.
And before I get on to the slight positivity I have for this film: I have to mention the all-out worst scene of the film: those Red Cross assholes. The writers believe that – in order to raise tension above zero – they’d need to introduce a potential threat. This threat was in the form of Red Cross salespeople, who inexplicably let themselves into a house in the middle of nowhere and have a stroll around, and then stay with a child they don’t know. The choice to include these characters so late in the game – rather than the sexton/priest from earlier was an absolute failure, and then having them walk away whilst ignoring the screams of the Mother was purely idiotic.
So, then, the sliver of kindness I have for Goodnight Mommy. The music was the only aspect that managed to elicit a little tension, so props to Olga Neuwirth for wringing out shreds of anxiety like a dry flannel. Additionally, the cinematography was quite pleasant, the cornfields and the interiors of the estate made a nice contrast to the close-ups of the vacant human faces. The sound design was also a bonus: the usage of the egg timer was a nice touch and not overdone as I had expected, and the cut-aways were preferable to the moderate amount of gore: the sterilised house made a good juxtaposition to the off-screen bloodiness.
Unfortunately, that’s all the positivity I have for it. I’m struggling to think of nicer things to say, and instead coming up with more drops of negativity, so I’ll leave it there. I’m stunned to hear it’s had such a great reception for such an unintelligent, trashy horror.