By Nathan DeCorte
In a year flush with high-profile horror sequels and remakes, one of the biggest stories to come out of the horror world this year came in the form of a single trailer for an independent Austrian film. The trailer for Goodnight Mommy dropped in July and instantly went viral, inspiring a firestorm of blog pieces, reaction videos, and general proclamations that this was the scariest trailer of all time. But buyer beware: Goodnight Mommy isn’t the white-knuckle ride to Hell glimpsed in the advertising. This is a different type of movie altogether. Though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The plot centers on Elias and Lukas, twin nine-year-old boys living on a secluded property in the Austrian countryside, where they await their mother’s return from the hospital after undergoing reconstructive surgery. But when she returns, her face still concealed by bandages, they are taken aback by her behavior. Rather than the warm, loving mother that they knew, this woman is cold and distant. She completely ignores Lukas and demands that Elias do the same. The boys are so unnerved by this sudden change that they become convinced that the woman beneath the bandages cannot be their mother.
What follows is an excruciatingly slow burn of a film. The first two-thirds are absolutely drenched with tension and dread, and the suspense only builds with each passing minute until it reaches a fever pitch. And when the climax comes, it hits the viewer like a sucker punch.
This film is bleak and at times very brutal, but it is simultaneously very beautiful. The brilliant 35mm cinematography captures a broad spectrum of soft, warm colors and lush, natural light. Grim as Goodnight Mommy is, it chooses to bask in the daylight rather than cloak itself in shadow. The film also makes use of long takes and shots that tend to linger on scenes even after the characters have left the room. The camera is rarely static, but it isn’t frenetic either. It just drifts through each scene without any apparent direction. This works in the film’s favor, as the camerawork, cinematography and editing collectively lend a very hazy, almost surreal quality to the film. To watch the film is like being haunted by a half-remembered nightmare.
Goodnight Mommy is a well-considered and sublimely executed exercise in psychological horror. The only major complaint that could be made is that the American trailer seriously misrepresented the product, an issue which obviously cannot be attributed to the film itself. This does pose a significant problem, however, as Goodnight Mommy is much more in line with films like Audition and A Tale of Two Sisters than say, a movie like High Tension. Viewers who were sold on this misinformation may find the set-up too slow for their liking, but the payoff is so gut-wrenching and heart rending that it demands a recommendation regardless. Goodnight Mommy was released to select theaters on Sep. 11, and will hopefully be seeing a wide theatrical release before making its way onto DVD and Blu-Ray at the end of the year.
Final Score: ⅘ stars, check it out.