I think if you ask anyone, they’d tell you that dealing with family can be pure horror. I mean, we’ve all done a disastrous Thanksgiving with the family at one point in our lives. But what if our family members go through a sudden change and we no longer recognize them as who they once were. That’s the central concept behind Goodnight Mommy, the new horror film from the writing-directing duo of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. The film centers around two young children who don’t believe that the person under heavy facial bandages is their mother. It’s an unsettling and creepy affair, perfect for die-hard horror fans.
“The basic idea we got from reality soaps,” Veronika explains the origins of Goodnight Mommy’s twisted familial drama. “Reality TV. I think there is the same in the United States, in Germany it’s called Extreme Beauty,” she continues explaining that an extreme makeover show provided the key inspiration. “The women get a makeover, and there’s this television moment on a red carpet when the families are reunited after months of separation or weeks of separation, and we saw in the children’s eyes that they are not – it’s not pure joy, but massive irritation, because this woman who is appearing looks so differently. Even one girl said to her father once, ‘This is not my mom.’ This is kind of the initial idea for the story.”
“Because it talks about a lot of stuff we’re always interested in,” Severin adds, “like finding your identity. Who makes you the person who you appear to be and can this change due to circumstances, and what happens then to everyone around you?”
Reality television isn’t the sole inspiration for the film. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” Severin cites as a key influence, “because the most terrifying thought for me would be that all the people I love are somebody else.”
Who should be most afraid during the events of Goodnight Mommy? “It depends on who you are, maybe,” Veronika says laughing. “When I was a child it was very frightening, and now as a mother it is also frightening. It’s both sides, I think”
“It’s good that we’re two people – a mother and a son,” Severin adds to Veronika’s point.
From the early frames of Goodnight Mommy, the audience is aware that a twist will be coming. “We always say, ‘The film is not about twists,’” Veronika says about the film’s shocking reveal. “Because, you know, you say it’s late. Some other people say, ‘Oh, I knew it from the first picture.’ Some people say, ‘Oh, I knew it in the middle,’ some people say, ‘Oh, I knew it too early.’”
“His mother,” Veronika points to her directing partner, “saw it three times – never understood. It’s really difficult, yeah, you cannot please everyone.”
“If you think it’s suspenseful and you’re drawn in, that’s what we want,” Veronika continues. “But if you get the twist either earlier or later, that’s fine with us. We just wanted to make a film about existential themes in a way that kind of takes you on a ride doesn’t let you go.”
“We like playing games,” Severin says of their creative process. “It’s one reason for making a film with children, because it was a very playful atmosphere. Writing the film was the same for us because we like writing together, sitting next to each other, and throwing ideas at each other. It’s like we want to surprise each other. We’re like kind of the first audience. So, like, Veronika has an idea and I say, ‘No, that’s complete shit,’ and mutually drop it and go on. It’s faster and kind of more or less of a game. So is like the filmmaking, and so we think the film should play with the audience. Of course, that only works for audiences that like to play games. There are some Austrian intellectuals, like these old people, who told us, ‘No, this film is not good,’ because they didn’t get how it would end beforehand. ‘I’m so intelligent and I didn’t get it, so it’s a bad film.’”
As for the telling a horror story through the eyes of children, Severin explains, “We felt that telling the story for the children’s perspective, at least for the first hour or so, we had to find means for transporting how children see the world. And we asked ourselves, ‘How do children see the world?’ We thought that dreams and nightmares and shadows play a much larger part, and they’re interwoven into real life and normal reality. So we wanted the first part of the film to have the same feeling, like this child-like perception of the world and when it turns, it should feel more like a documentary and more like how grown-up people would feel about what the world would be like. It’s straight and there’s no more room for fantasies and nightmares. It’s just reality.”