Goodnight, Mommy (2015)

Good humpday, everyone! Up on the slate today –

Ich Seh Ich Seh (original Austrian movie poster)

Or what is otherwise known as Goodnight, Mommy.

First, let me say I started watching this as a means of rinsing my mind after watching a different horror film that was good – but left my skin crawling (the EWW kind of skin crawling, like I needed a hot shower).

And rinse my palate it did! Goodnight, Mommy is an excellent tour-de-force of atmosphere, silence, and touching – disturbing – moments.

Know right off the bat, that if you want to watch it in English – that’s not happening. It’s subtitled. (I know some people that subtitles can be a deal breaker for unless anime is involved.)

A fast summary: Two boys, 9 year old twins, are enjoying idyllic summer days in the Austrian countryside when their mother returns home from hospital to recuperate from a somewhat(?) minor cosmetic facial surgery. But the boys suspect someone else has come home and taken their mother’s place. Havoc ensues.

QUICK INFO DROP

Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Written by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Starring: Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz

This movie does a great job of building tension in long silent moments, with some truly beautiful shots of the home, the boys, the mother – all interacting with each other. Sometimes silently, sometimes not so silently.

Overall this film disturbed me – on so many levels. As a parent I was absolutely fucking terrified. What the fuck would I do if my kids did this? And, THOSE POOR BOYS! THEIR POOR MOTHER!! And just… ugh. Really?

The first 2/3rds of this film is like being in a dark room with the lights off. Standing next to the switch, listening carefully for clues – spooked out of your mind. The final third, the last act, is flicking the switch and realizing the truth – seeing the monster for what it is and knowing you’re done for.

So if you haven’t seen it, go see it. If you enjoy atmosphere, tense films with little need for gore or jump scares (although there are a few, but not intended as “BOO! We GOTCHA!” moments) – pick this film up ASAP. Redbox it, Amazon it, buy it, whatever you need to do. Make it happen, peeps.

This ends the portion of the review that exists without spoilers. So, without further adieu..

Milk - Now with SPOILER ALERT

Generally, I avoid spoilers in my reviews at all costs. So you can enjoy the film as fresh as a summer daisy in a field of roses. (I don’t know where I was going with that metaphor. Enjoy the mental image.) I want you to have as close to the same experience as I had going into the film.

But this film… it requires discussion. So, I’m not saying it again – if you haven’t seen it, and don’t want spoilers, STOP READING NOW. Return later and discuss your thoughts and interpretation in the comment section with me.

As for my deeper thoughts… let’s go.

Mama's got a brand new face!

That’s a face only someone’s kids could lov– Oh, wait.

After watching, I immediately dived into the net for answers. There’s some questions you’ll definitely be left with. For example, WTF happened at the end? Who’s dead and who’s not? Psychosis or ghost?

I noticed that the Internet Legions were steadfastly leaning towards psychosis as the “answer” for everything.

Wait, do I need to backtrack here? Nah, if you’re reading this you’ve watched it by now and *hopefully* remember the film well enough to understand this direction I’m taking.

If not, a (superfluous?) recap:

The twins, Lukas and Elias, and their unnamed Mother are at odds through most of the film. Especially Lukas and Mother, whom Mother refuses to acknowledge – going so far as to refuse to give him food or water.

Overheard snippets of conversation between Mother and an unknown person on the phone suggest that Lukas may not actually be there, and be a delusional hallucination or psychosis that Elias cannot stop seeing. It’s revealed that there was a recent tragic accident, costing Lukas’s life, Elias’s sanity, and their parents marriage.

This backstory is actually the pivotal plot point of the film. It’s not that Mother comes home in bandages and looks different – it’s that Mother is tired of playing the “Lukas is alive” game with Elias and finally puts her foot down. Only Lukas isn’t ready to be forgotten, and as a voice in Elias’s ear, convinces his living brother to torture and eventually kill their mother.

Recap done. Back to theorizing.

As I said, much of the internet seems to go with the psychosis aspect – that Elias has lost touch with reality over his brother’s unexpected death and cannot let go. Going so far as to insist over and over again to his mother Lukas is alive, and needs an outfit set out for him, food, water, etc. until Mother breaks. When she cannot (and will not) play the game anymore, Elias’s delusion turns violent, leading to tragic consequences: Mother’s death – perhaps Elias’s as well – but an awkward (if happy?) reunion outside their burning home.

But that theory is boring. Plain ol’ dull-as-dishwater uninteresting. Then again, it wasn’t uninteresting for the other reviewers whose posts I read – because for many of them, they didn’t pick up on the clues that Lukas wasn’t real as soon as I did (at least, according to their words about when they realized Lukas was dead/not real and when I did).

There’s two scenes that revealed to me that Lukas was dead and either a delusion or maybe a ghost haunting his brother.

1) Elias is drinking a glass of juice Mother poured for him, and says to her “Lukas wants one, too.” But she refuses to give Lukas one, saying “If Lukas wants one, he can ask me himself.” Lukas doesn’t answer her, and after she walks away Elias slides his glass over so Lukas can finish it.

2) Shortly after the drink scene, the boys are getting ready for bed. Elias brushes his teeth, then Lukas does – USING THE SAME TOOTHBRUSH. At first I tried to brush this off as a “European” thing, but I know/knew better. That was strange.

Between these two scenes, I’d figured out Lukas wasn’t real. (I thought it became obvious when Mother declares she won’t play the game anymore, pointing out she wouldn’t leave out two sets of clothes (or allow Elias to do it if that’s who does it), and the brothers are thereafter seen wearing matching outfits.)

But I thought it created an even more interesting question – what if Lukas isn’t some delusional creation of Elias’s grief addled mind? What if he is a ghost, haunting the home – haunting Elias – and using his brother to torture the person he blames for his death? What if Lukas doesn’t even know he’s dead? Elias works very hard to keep up the illusion that Lukas is alive. What if he’s an angry, vengeful ghost who wants to hurt the woman who has abandoned him?

If that’s the case, he succeeds. Elias falters on so many occasions, nearly freeing his mother more than once. But it’s Lukas’s voice in his ear that compels him onward.

The ghost angle, which if true (though no doubt if presented to the film’s creators, they would say it’s always up to interpretation) makes this film… well, neither more terrifying nor more bearable. This film is pretty rough, no matter which way you interpret it’s plot lines and characters. Hard to watch, harder to swallow, and lingering – holy zombie Jesus will it linger.

Goodnight, Mommy alternate poster - cropped

This gives me the shivers just looking at it. They look like kids eyeing down that birthday cake – but we know better, don’t we?

The ghost thing is just a theory, anyway. Another different, unique way of viewing the film.

Since you’ve read my deeper thoughts about the film, I’d like to read yours. Share your theories and interpretations in the comments below. Much discuss, so theory.

And don’t forget to pick up a copy of The Rainbow Ranch while you’re at it. It’s not as disturbing as Goodnight, Mommy (unless you’re disturbed by satire that pulls the trigger at homophobic people and sheds new, rainbow-colored moonlight on the idea of an orgy under the full moon), but it’ll entertain for sure.

‘Til next time.

By the way, feel free to use any of the links below (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to follow me around the web and stalk me through my cyber windows. I don’t mind an audience. 😉

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