Horror movies, I’ve concluded, are the go-to films for the optimum theatre experience. The screening room was in an uproar by the end of the Austrian gem, “Goodnight Mommy”; all of them collectively gagging when the boys would collect beetles, and dissolving into a unanimous gasp at the sight of blood on screen.
The experience was one-of-a-kind for me. I felt like I could always predict what people’s reception was going to be throughout the film. With that being said, “Goodnight Mommy,” as evidenced by the audience’s wide range of audible reactions, is a psychological rollercoaster with the screws loose.
At the start of the film, two 10-year-old twin brothers, Lukas and Elias (played by actual twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz) are doing ordinary kid things — you know, like playing tag in a cornfield, swimming in the lake, exploring creepy underground cave tombs… kid things — while waiting for their mother to return from facial surgery.
Obviously this is a joyous occasion for the boys, right? That is, of course, until the mother returns home with a face wrapped in bandages and the boys refuse to embrace her, convinced that something is amiss. It becomes apparent that the mother is no longer the pleasant presence that the boys ran into the house for to greet. She is now cold, remote, short-tempered, and quick to punish. In the giant house they live in, there is no place to hide from the mother. To make matters even more jarring, the woman begins to clearly favor one of the twin over the other, for no clear reason. They begin to suspect that she is trying to separate them.
Despite the mother’s wishes, the boys are inseparable, spending all their time together, sharing the same eerie nightmares, practicing the same icky habit of collecting beetles, and having the occasional innocent jump on a trampoline. Their mummified-from-the-neck-up mother gets even more cruel and darker throughout the film, resorting to physical abuse. Having no one to run to — an absent father, and a nearby town priest who takes them back home, proved fruitless — the boys resort to taking matters into their own hands, staking out their own room and planting baby monitors in the mother’s room.
When the bandages come off, it was the people in the audience that covered their own faces. It is somehow even more terrifying, seeing “Mama”’s face, and the boys are still not convinced. They tie her up to her bed, interrogating her — with torture methods that kids their age should definitely not know about — about her identity, showing a jarring shift in the position of power. Near the end of the film, it is difficult for the audience to determine who exactly they should root for; the troubled young boy who is peer pressured into torturing his mother, the other brother who is resentful because of the neglect of his mother, or the mysterious woman who has been tortured to the point of wetting her bed.
If I could sum up the film in one emoji, I would have to create a new one — one that’s somewhere between terrifyingly confused and helplessly sympathetic, with a subtle gag reflex. But as I tell all my friends, don’t take my word for something you can experience and judge yourselves. However, watch “Goodnight Mommy” at your own risk.
Goodnight Mommy 8/10