Benjamin Wollmuth is a lover of literature who enjoys sharing his thoughts on everything from movies and video games to books and music.
This article contains spoilers.
You have been warned.
The Disturbing Nature of "Goodnight Mommy"
Now, I just want to say that I am pretty desensitized when it comes to horror. I watch so much of it (because I love it), therefore, they don't scare me too easily. If a horror movie does anything to me, it disturbs me, but even that is hard to do. To truly disturb me (or even truly grip me), the film has to have a sense of realism––something that many horror movies fail to accomplish. Goodnight Mommy, however, managed to tremendously creep me out. While watching, I had a horrible feeling that it was going to make me scared of my own mother, but by the end of it... well, let's just say I'm having second thoughts on whether I want children or not.
So, what makes Goodnight Mommy stand out above the rest? Well, for starters, it manages to carry a sense of realism––basically, most of the film is truly believable. The singular setting and the small cast helps with that immensely. Not only that, but the film is so well-acted and well-directed. At first, it seems like "realism" is not what the film is going for, and that's all because of the strange way the mother acts. To put it in the simplest way possible: she's a bitch to her kids. She also acts really mysterious, and there are instances where she does some weird naked stuff in the woods (but these turn out to be dreams). However, as the film keeps going, it is made clear that the main themes of the movie center around grief and communication, or lack thereof. But what does this have to do with realism? Well, let me explain the basic plot of the film, first.
After their mother receives facial surgery, two twin boys fail to believe that the woman in their home is actually their mother. As I said before, the mother does some pretty... questionable acts. But also, as I said, the film is really dealing with grief and communication. In reality, the two twin boys of the story are actually one boy––the other boy we see is just a figment of Elias' (the non-dead boy) imagination. He was real at one point, and indeed Elias' twin brother (Lukas), but after an accident that is left pretty ambiguous, Lukas died, and in order to cope, Elias brought his brother back to life in his head. Mother played along at first, but after wanting to move on from the loss, decides to get plastic surgery and stops playing along with Elias' game-–which in turn leads Elias to believe that his "mother" is an imposter. The two dealt with their grief in different ways and a lack of communication lead to truly disturbing events that I will get into soon. The realism comes from the fact that there is nothing supernatural or monstrous going on––it's just a family dealing with loss in different ways that leads to truly horrific events caused my immense misunderstanding.
Goodnight Mommy starts by making you think that there is something truly wrong with the mother by having the audience see things through Elias' and ghost Lukas' perspective. We see strange images of mother, but they turn out to be dreams that Elias has. These dreams, however, are left pretty ambiguous, so the audience doesn't actually know what to believe. Halfway through the film, the perspective jumps to that of mother's, where we see her son tie her up and torture her. I emphasize because I was truly shocked. The worst part is: it all looked so real. Rarely am I forced to look away from the screen, but in this instance I was. At the beginning of the film, I was agreeing with the boys: there is something wrong with the mother. But, after watching her get tortured, my thoughts completely shifted. Once I finally learned that Elias had created ghost Lukas in his head, I felt like the worst person ever for thinking that the mother was anything but that: his mother. I mean, the pieces all added up. There was so much evidence laced throughout the film that pointed toward Lukas not being real, but I completely overlooked it because I was so set on either the mother being evil or the boys being inherently evil. The film is so disturbing because so much is left ambiguous––we don't know who to trust. There are clues that point towards both a messed up mother and a messed up son. I commend the film's directors, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, for being able to keep things ambiguous––to keep the audience guessing at every second. Once we do find out that Elias dealt with his grief in the worst way possible, it's too late. The film is over, and we are left to reflect on what the hell we just watched.
So here's a lesson to all of the parents reading: communicate with your children. If you don't, they could end up going crazy. Ah, hell, who am I kidding? I'm not a parent. Don't take advice from me... but do watch Goodnight Mommy.
In the end, we don't know exactly how Lukas died. We don't know exactly why the mother decided to get plastic surgery. We don't even know if she truly was his actual mother (even though I am pretty sure she was). This was a journey. I haven't sat down and watched a foreign film in a while, but I am glad I did. While it didn't necessarily scare me, Goodnight Mommy managed to use ambiguity in the best of ways––it left me questioning what was wrong and what was right, and that's awesome. In the end, I am going to give Goodnight Mommy an 8.5/10.
Check out another of my horror explorations!
- 'Digging Up the Marrow' (2014) - Exploring Found Footage
This is a short exploration of the found-footage horror film "Digging Up the Marrow," which includes the good things and the bad things this movie has to offer to the subgenre and the entertainment world as a whole.
© 2020 Benjamin Wollmuth