Nerve-shredding, skin-crawling horror is reconfigured and given a new face with this distinct Austrian stunner from directorial team Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz.
It follows twin boys who move to a stylish and remote new home with their mother (Susanne Wuest) after she undergoes face-changing surgery. But the idyllic location and supposed recovery soon changes when the boys start to not recognize the mommy under those bandages.
Knowing as little as possible about the plot beyond that vague description is the best idea possible as the film gleefully plays around with audience expectation. It’s not a film for those who like their horror all about sudden jump scares and cheap shock tactics. This is something altogether more sinister with a claustrophobic, deeply unnerving atmosphere that really gets under your skin and stays there.
Like a lot of the best horror movies, its entire purpose is to unsettle you, making you feel unsafe, wary and constantly on edge as to what might happen next. Its dark and twisted heart makes a film that doesn’t pull its punches, never afraid to go that extra mile to make sure you’re thoroughly creeped out.
Along with the expertly wound feeling of utter dread and the disquieting score by Olga Neuwirth, there’s some truly haunting horror imagery that really stays with you, whether it’s an off-kilter dream sequence or the reality of the increasingly tense situation in which the boys and their dear mommy find themselves. As with most horrors of this kind, all is not as it seems when we first enter this peculiar isolated world that feels at once alien and yet entirely believable. But it’s a testament to the writing and skilful direction that even if you can work out where certain things are going, you feel like its earned it rather than it being a cheap switcheroo.
Shades of The Shining (creepy twins, isolated setting, distrust of family), The Babadook (parent-child paranoia) and even Under the Skin (peculiarity of tone) can be found in this stark, attention-grabbing piece of arthouse horror cinema. Using graceful cinematography, affecting performances (newcomers Lukas and Elias Schwarz are particularly impressive) and a potent sense of dread, Goodnight Mommy explores ideas of parental protection, the bond between family and how pained memories can affect people of all ages in very different ways. A depth of meaning and keen handle on what it takes to creep out an audience makes for a very effective horror experience indeed.