Familial bonds are great to be used in horror because it’s able to play on a near-universal familiarity and subvert our comfort zones. Continuing the horror tradition of the unknown creeping into the familiar is Goodnight Mommy, the new slow burn horror film from the writing-directing duo of Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, which sees two brothers speculate that their mother has been replaced by an impostor. Goodnight Mommy isn’t the type of horror film full of jolts and startles, but rather a sense of escalating unease.
When we first see Lukas and Elias, played by Lukas and Elias Schwarz, they’re playing in a cornfield, running around through the tall stalks of corn. In a secluded home on the German countryside, the two children pass the time together until their mother (Susanne Wuest) returns for an extensive medical procedure, her face completely bandaged. But their mother isn’t how the young brothers remember her, more stern and authoritative than ever before. Their mother remains reclusive and secretive as the two boys grow more and more suspicious. The two are beyond convinced that their mother has been replaced by impostor, one that has undergone massive facial reconstructive surgery to take on the visage of their mother.
Of course, there’s a significant twist to the proceedings of Goodnight Mommy, though I wouldn’t dare spoil it. The twist itself isn’t wildly imaginative, but comes so late in the film that it doesn’t become a problem for the story being told. Everything before the shocking revelation is building tension, and the final half-hour of the film is incredibly tense and unsettling.
The writing-directing team of Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz wisely understand how uncomfortable a lack of soundtrack can make a movie, as long stretches of the film proceed without any music. They’re also able to get fine performances from the two young actors. Lukas and Elias Schwarz encapsulate the innocence of childhood, but are still able to bring this sense of distrust in their characters – all of which take an incredibly dark turn that will leave you squirming in your seat.
Goodnight Mommy isn’t an all-time great horror film, but it’s an unsettling ride for a little over 90 minutes that will leave most horror fans tickled. The film is a gleefully disturbing subversion of familial relationships with some well-paced filmmaking to accentuate the tension. But the events of Goodnight Mommy might drive a line between many families – parents and children now incapable of trusting one another because there just might be a bloody little secret that nobody wants to confront.