by Stephanie Ching
Scrolling aimlessly through my Facebook last Tuesday, one particular headline grabbed my attention. As reported by IndieWire, Austria had just chosen the horror film “Goodnight Mommy” as its nominee for the foreign language Oscar. That was an incredibly bold choice considering “Goodnight Mommy” was not such a safe bet for Austria– it didn’t choose a regular genre film, but instead chose a horror film as its bid for the Oscar. I thought to myself, “Ok… now it’s time to watch this”. Just the several reviews I had read on “Goodnight Mommy” gave me the chills. Luckily for me, I had a friend at Fordham University at Lincoln Center who was also willing to take on the movie and the nightmares that were to haunt us for a good week afterwards. We bought our tickets and went to the Howard Gilman Theater at Lincoln Center a must for any cinephile or lover of comfy movie theater seats!) totally unprepared for the roller coaster this movie was about to take us on.
“Goodnight Mommy” was directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. The movie takes place in an isolated home in Austria, with twin boys Elias and Lukas (played by Elias and Lukas Schwarz) awaiting their mother’s return from a cosmetic surgery. The movie immediately set up a terrifyingly bleak atmosphere. Everything is gray, and the first thing my friend said upon seeing the interior of the home was “this looks like an Ikea catalogue.” The snide comments ended there as we sat on the edge of our seats for the next two hours. Elias and Lukas’ mother returns radically different from her surgery, both emotionally and physically. There is no need for a supernatural creature in this film, the image of their mother’s bloodshot eyes peering through her surgery bandages sufficed. The boys believe that their mother is acting strangely, entirely detached from her children and changing several aspects of their daily lives. As the boys grow more and more suspicious of their mother’s behavior the question posed is whether the woman who returned from radical surgery is actually their mother. This mystery keeps audiences constantly guessing as the boys attempt to find out the truth behind the conspiracy. The movie reaches its peak with a shocking twist.
I know what many of you are thinking: “Another horror movie with a twist that I could probably guess within the first 30 minutes.” In this instance, however, you’re wrong. The twist didn’t feel like a cheap trick included by the director just to get some buzz around the film. Though it may be similar to other twists in horror movies, this one resonated. It made sense in a way that made it integral to the story and had the entire audience audibly gasping “why” and “oh no’s”. Even if you did guess this twist (by some miracle) in the middle of the film, it took away none of its force.
If you have the chance, I suggest you give yourself a study break and go see this movie immediately. The movie currently holds an 81% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 79% on Metacritic. Though it’s no longer playing at Lincoln Center due to the beginning of the New York Film Festival, it’s playing at both the Angelika Film Center and Williamsburg Cinemas.
Stephanie Ching is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.