This is what happens when you have an incredible film and a flimsy, predictable twist that gets executed in the worst way imaginable.
*THERE ARE SPOILERS HERE!*
If Zack Snyder is the king of making films that fail to live up to the hype generated by their theatrical trailers, then the entire horror genre has to be the proverbial queen. On an annual basis, we’re treated to a handful of films that blow us away and scare the underwear off us just from their slick trailers. Then we watch the actual movies and leave the theater feeling bitterly disappointed.
The Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy falls firmly and resoundingly in that disappointing category. It’s frustrating because the movie – Austria’s official entry for the 88th Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film category – is very good in so many different ways.
On a technical level, things are in excellent shape; it’s not often a horror movie has such a solid combination of production design, music, and acting (and other factors, of course). But the most important achievement here is the thorough exploration of uncertainty, paranoia, and doubt in children when faced with unsettling scenarios.
In this case, the cause of such adolescent angst is cosmetic facial surgery and the ensuing bandages that cover a mother’s head. Her twins, Elias and Lukas, are justifiably unnerved by their mother’s frightening appearance and when her behavior starts to become erratic, they wonder if something sinister has taken the place of their beloved mom.
This is where I have to return to the trailer. It makes the mom’s position ambiguous, like there’s a legitimate chance she’s been taken over by some kind of paranormal being or Satan himself. But in the movie, it’s clear almost from the beginning there’s something wrong with the twins. Once you take that approach, you realize the mom is acting weird because, you know, how you would act if you’ve just gone through an operation on your face?
And how would you act if your kids started to conspire against you?
Excuse me, I meant to say one kid and his dead twin. You see, it turns out one of the twins died sometime before the movie’s events and the remaining kid feels all kinds of different emotions. Perhaps to cope with all that, he starts to hallucinate, if you will, and ends up with a mental creation that is considerably more sinister and manipulative than you’d expect.
The evil twin corrupts the living twin and they “work together” to investigate their mom. Again, this is all a big waste of time because it’s excruciatingly obvious that there’s nothing particularly ominous about the mom outside of what I’ve covered above. When the content is this weak, it doesn’t matter that the twins are excellent actors for their age. It doesn’t matter that the traditional methods of frightening the audience work (mood is a big thing).
Content drives everything and Goodnight Mommy loses the wheel almost immediately. Like with many films, I watched this with my friend Kevin and apparently the “twist” wasn’t as obvious for him. So this may just be a personal thing. Perhaps you’ll watch this and marvel at it all. But then again, you already know what happens now, so probably not.