This is an experience that, until the last five minutes, is something that gets your attention and doesn't really let go, in large part because it presents characters and a situation that takes a little Polanski (three character set-up, remote location, psychological turmoil) with some Haneke (same thing, only even more disturbing implications for the human race being presented), and yet it still doesn't describe how far Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz go with this, especially in the little (WTF) things that take place. And hey, maybe a 'twist' is something the story calls for... or, maybe it doesn't.
|An eye on you can be taken literally here|
The brothers have this bond together, and they just have it in their gut this 'thing' that has returned home is not their biological mother. They confront her about it and ask where their real mother is. What a question! Of course she's their mother.... right? It's this big question that drives everything in the story (it's summer so there's no school, and she's recovering so there's no work, so it's just them in this house), but there's lots more that makes the kids and the mother so interesting.
For one thing, the boys have a certain, eh, hobby. Some kids like having a hamster or a gerbil behind glass or in a cage. These kids collect/breed/catch cockroaches. Yep, cockroaches; it's one of the best reveals in a while in a movie, as one of the boys flosses and we see a giant cockroach crawling on the walls. Not only is he non-plussed, he gathers it and puts it back into the case with the others. These brothers are playful guys, seemingly just fun-loving boys, often play-hitting each other, running around, trying to discover more of their surroundings. They bring home a stray-hurt cat, and try to hide it from their mother. That doesn't go well, so they decide to take the cat and put it in a tank full of water (or is it gasoline...)
Oh, and then to get a little more 'playful' with this bandaged-headed thing in their house, they take a cockroach and put it on her face while she sleeps, which then goes into her mouth. Um... yes, this happens. Goodnight Mommy doesn't have those kinds of moments every scene, but enough build up to make a tone of really odd and bizarre dread. While this is happening, the Mother is looking at her body, sometimes naked, sometimes just in a mirror behind a sheer dress. And in one scene she goes out into the woods at night, disrobes, and scene of the (sadly) really cheap, dated effect-type of shots, her head flips out from side to side like in a Saw movie (or an even more rapid-fire take of Oh-Dae Su in Oldboy when he's in his prison). Is this for real, or just some fantastical sequence? And why roaches? As the surrealists would say, WHY NOT?
The ambiguity abounds in this story, which is both for the good - to create a tone of question for both sides throughout - and not so good. Certain pieces of information are left aside or omitted, and it feels curious while it goes on, like the hints of an 'accident' and the missing status of the boys' father, but one can brush it away. Then the filmmakers get into the meat of the second/third act, when Lukas and Elias (this following her removing her head-bandage and seeming to be friendly again) tie her up in her sleep. It's time for some good ol' fashioned torture, folks!
This is horror that is not for the squeamish - and I imagine for expecting mothers or those with frayed relationships with their sons, it may be a lot to take, like a giant slap to the face - and it's in the accumulation of the details and how things do flip in a way that can keep the audience guessing: what if it's not the boys who are suspecting and the mother who is some nutball interfering with their lives, but the other way around?
|And de-masked they are so... adorable? And creepy? Creeporable?|
And then.... the filmmakers throw in a twist. At the very last moment, this after a fake-out with people coming to the door (an expertly done sequence, mostly for the awkward comedy as the adults wait around with the kids), and the torture getting ugly and extremely cringe-inducing, i.e. if you're sensitive about your lips, just close your goddamn eyes. But.... it's something that's meant to be a gut-punch, like "Oh no, so THAT's what all of this has meant all this time, it's about the failure to cope with grief, especially after a tragic accident". My issue is that this comes so late in the game that the audience can't get acclimated to it, and then the movie's just over.
The idea, one supposes, is that we'll go back and watch it all again to see how everything we missed actually connect together. But I'm not sure if it does, at least how these directors put it - so,
The brothers aren't really brothers, it's one son only, and his brother died in the accident that disfigured the mother. This actually wouldn't be so bad IF it came a little earlier in the story. It's meant to give the very last moment of the film, with a "reuniting" in a cornfield a creepy-tragic context, and yet I felt cheated in a way. The filmmakers do only a minimal job, as I could see it in one scene (or was it two, DAMNIT, maybe they did have me), but, again, it's not a necessary component really with the plot in an organic sense. While it's not High Tension rug-pulling, it's close, and it could have been solved, and perhaps given an even fuller tragic dimension, had it come like 15/20 minutes earlier (the big question is - WHY does the mother not point this out earlier?)
Having said this, and my disappointment with this, I still had a lot of enjoyment, in that really twisted, holy-God-what's-next sense. It's shot with a keen eye for place, it takes its time, almost, early on, in that slow-burn kind of way (again, Polanski's in this films bones), and it's got a lot of originality to how the boys interact with this 'Mother'.
And now, the weather: