Occasionally, a foreign film, such as Austrian Goodnight Mommy, winds up in my queue and I get, to be honest, a little bit excited. American horror is excellent, but sometimes things are a little bit scarier when coming from a new perspective.
In this case, it’s a film that delivers right up until the very end with little or no downtime. It starts out when a set of young twins, Lukas and Elias, begin to suspect their mother of well, not being their mother, after she returns home from having apparent cosmetic surgery. Unlike the mother they had before, this other mother is one that is cold and angry, full of violent rages that lead to vicious abuse on the boys. Utterly isolated by farm country, the boys have no one else to turn to in their search for the truth.
The film’s opening scene reminds me of the otherness felt in Children of the Corn. The twins play with a joyful freedom in a giant cornfield and in the woods surrounding their home. The carefree banter ends though when they return home to find their mother shrouded in bandages. They seem to be unprepared for this encounter, which makes the unsettling nature of this confrontation all the more unnerving.
Mother (who’s name is never revealed) lays down the rules in a vicious, cold manner that is only accentuated by the language barrier and the visual imagery of the film. In fact, one of the film’s greatest accomplishments is the tactile, hyper realness of everything being too much, too stifling, too intense. It leads the viewer to feel closed in and swept up, locked in dread with the boys. There are other brilliant touches with the aesthetics of the film, including the artwork hanging on the walls and the cold, near empty rooms.
Unfortunately, the plot begins to slide into mediocrity somewhere towards the middle of the film. Like other movies that started off with a brilliant, gorgeous feeling (Jeepers Creepers, for one), this one sort of unravels as it moves along. There are genuinely disturbing scenes and images, such as a dead cat and a fishtank full of hissing cockroaches, but ultimately the plot fails to drive this into something truly spectacular.