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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Review: Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, ich seh)

Why is Mommy Wearing Bandages?

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: September 11, 2015 – U.S.
Rating: R
Genre: Horror, Drama, Thriller, Mystery
Running Time: 99 minutes
Directors: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz
Writers: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala
Cast: Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz, 
Susanne Wuest  

I figured out a major plot development in "Goodnight Mommy" within seconds – assuming it was supposed to be a surprise, that is, because it was immediately obvious to me. Then it was just a matter of getting to that point in the film.

The movie begins with two twin brothers at play (Elias and Lukas Schwarz, whose characters are also named Elias and Lukas). They are about 8 or 9, and they live with their mother (Susanne Wuest) in a big house. There has been an accident of some kind. That much is obvious because their mother's face is completely wrapped in suitably creepy bandages. But the details of what happened are never really made clear.

It has been a rough road for this little family. The mother is impatient, sensitive to sunlight, and doesn't hesitate to raise her hand in discipline if her demands are not met: play very quietly and don't bring animals into the house. Have you ever known a little boy who could follow such unreasonable restrictions?

Elias and Lukas begin to fear that this strange, angry woman whose face is wrapped like a mummy isn't, well, their mummy.

From there, let's just say she's forced to prove herself.

I didn't quite see the third act going in the direction it did – that was somewhat of a surprise, at least – but I found it difficult to watch and deeply unpleasant. Look, I get it: this is a horror movie and it has to be sick and cringe-inducing. I also realize what happens later in the film is a reaction to, and reflection of, earlier actions and events – a mirror image, almost. Even though the story and dialogue don't reveal much overtly, it was obvious to me that grief weighs heavily on this family – and that emotion is what influences their behavior, especially at the end.

Still, despite the careful craftsmanship of the plotting, what was the point being made? "Goodnight Mommy" feels almost irresponsible – nauseating for the sake of it, just to produce a few thrills and chills – with any significant meaning or lesson blunted by gross-out shock tactics.

It doesn't help, either, that these characters and their behaviors are not entirely believable at times. There is one scene, in particular, that is superbly suspenseful but otherwise ridiculous. It involves a pair of elderly Red Cross workers who come to the door looking for a donation.

I will give this German-language import from Austria credit where it's due – it is beautifully shot, well-acted, moody and eerie – but I can't say I ever enjoyed it. There are children's books with more dialogue. That isn't necessarily a bad thing – there's nothing wrong with storytelling that's stripped to the barest essentials – but for something so minimal, this takes a little too long to get to the point.

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