Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.
2014. Rated R, 100 minutes.
I'm in a bit of a quandary with this one. I want to write this incredibly in-depth review without spoiling the movie I'm discussing. That's not the issue because that is what I always try to do. The problem is anything I tell you might be giving away too much. I'll tread lightly from this point on. You should do the same.
The story, as much as I can tell you is pretty simple. We meet Elias and Lukas, played by real-life twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz. They're just frolicing about in and around their home while waiting for their mom, only identified in the credits as The Mother (West), to get home from the hospital. When she arrives, it's obvious she's been in a serious accident. Her face is still heavily bandaged from reconstructive surgery. Almost immediately after her arrival, she lays down some new rules while displaying an attitude entirely different from what the boys are used to. The combination of both these things makes them seriously question whether or not this is even their real mother.
The first hour of the film works extremely hard, and is extremely successful at building up a strong sense of dread. The three people mentioned in the prior paragraph are the only people we see for about ninety-nine percent of the film, and their interactions are contentious, to say the least. Almost every word they say to one another feels like they are making an effort to get the upper-hand in whichever relationship we're watching. Mom is clearly trying to establish control over her household while the boys, as I said, are trying to figure out if this woman is who she says she is. When the boys speak to each other, it's not much different. They take turns trying to convince each other of their opinion on the matter of this woman's identity.
There are also some bizarre things going on, as well. In particular, we get to see some of the dreams the three of them are having. They are all on the creepy side further adding to the notion something bad is going to happen. Between conversations, we get shots of the The Mother watching the boys, or them watching her. During these, we get the typical evil glares, and hard chords of music as they happen. Typical they may be, but they are effective in keeping us on pins and needles while we await whatever is coming.
Directing team Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala join forces to create the disquieting tone permeating that first sixty minutes. I mentioned their use of music, but the real tension is created when they choose not to use any music at all. The natural sounds of whatever the characters are doing combine with the looks on the face of this character or that to provide us our cues. Those looks are given by actors giving understated but forceful performances. The twins both come across as real boys who vacillate between being frightened of and curious about The Mother. As that lone adult, Susanne Wuest is excellent as the woman even we aren't sure how to take. She conveys the trauma she's been through, the uncertainty of her future, the strained relationship with her boys, and possibly sinister thoughts all with equal skill. She keeps our head spinning right up until the moment the script takes that ability away from her.
The script exposing her is a good thing, however. It's at this point, a few minutes beyond the sixty-minute mark, where things must come to a head. As the old saying goes, something's gotta give. When it does, it reaches into your skull, yanks your brain out through your nostrils, twists it into knots, then shoves it back in place. That's just from thinking about the craziness and the ramifications of what's going on. From a visual standpoint, it's just as disturbing, yet impossible to look away from. After being put through the ringer for quite some time, we end on a shot that is magical in its ambiguity. The trick it pulls is that it doesn't matter what you think actually happened, it's discomfiting, but if viewed from a certain viewpoint, a happy ending. This makes the final thirty minutes of Goodnight Mommy the most visceral movie experience I've had in quite some time.