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In the heat of the summer, a lonesome house in the countryside between woods and corn fields, lives nine-year-old twin brothers who are waiting for their mother. When she comes home, bandaged after cosmetic surgery, nothing is like before. The children start to doubt that this woman is actually their mother. It emerges an existential struggle for identity and fundamental trust. Written by
Ulrich Seidl Film
Not an easy watch, but you'll find it hard to turn away...
It is a conspicuously uneasy vibe established practically right from the start of the ultra-unsettling Austrian psychological thriller "Goodnight Mommy". And then from there all the way up to the haunting conclusion, Co-Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz never take their feet off the pedal, unleashing an unrelenting and unnerving undercurrent of fear and dread.
Following what we come to learn was a horrific auto accident, a single mother also only recently separated from her husband returns to her country home and to her twin pre-adolescent sons. Severely damaged in the crash, her face is concealed in a grotesque guise of gauze and tape. She has been helplessly rendered to revealing to her children only a mummy-like mommy looking back at them with empty eyes, one who ceaselessly scolds them through pursed lips, often times as she is at once bodily abusing them. Mom's off-puttingly odd behavior leads one of the twins, Lukas, to suspect that this is not their mother at all. The other, Elias, is not so sure. At least initially, that is.
We watch, gripped with fascination, as these kids struggle mightily to uncover who, or WHAT, this curious creature is wandering about ominously in and around their house. Where in the world is she from? Or more alarmingly to consider, is she even OF this world? Is she actually an amnesiac, or is it all an act? And what of these urgent and seemingly random episodes of OCD spray bottle disinfecting of walls both inside and out? There are an abundance of plausible themes running throughout "Goodnight Mommy" from which to consider and to choose. Can a brutally battered and broken family be fixed? Can a distraught mother completely overwhelmed with pain both physical and spiritual ever fully return from the hell of a nervous breakdown? Or perhaps the ruthless reality that a post-traumatic existence is never endured alone, but is a shared suffering among all those infected in it's aftermath.
Not only are their roles exceedingly challenging emotionally, in addition these are physically punishing performances registered by all three principles in the film. The slapping, punching and eye-gouging inflicted by real-life twin brothers Lukas and Elias Schwarz along with actress Susanne Wuest upon each other never appear to be simulated. And while Wuest is certainly a stunningly beautiful woman to behold, the character she so strikingly inhabits is about as far from glamorous as can possibly be imagined.
The tables turn in terrifyingly twisted fashion mid-movie, as the persecuted become the exploiters. The hunter becomes the prey. What results is a starkly sordid demanding that love lost be replenished. And all at the will of unconscionable sadism. It is a genuinely disturbing disintegration to witness.
In the closing sequence of "Goodnight Mommy" we realize that we have returned back to the beginning of the story-the perfect picture of a mother and her children. Only we are abundantly aware that this is a final image which, while by nature eternal, has been reached at the end of a viciously cruel and merciless road paved with unspeakable grief and atrocity.
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