Thursday, July 23, 2015

Goodnight Mommy--Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (2014)

Mommy (Susanne Wuest) checks on her kids in Goodnight Mommy (2014)
Goodnight Mommy (2014) was everything I could hope for and more.  This film fits beautifully with the work I'm exploring on the topic of ambivalent mothers and "evil" children exemplified in films such as We Need to Talk about Kevin (2011) and The Babadook (2014).  The fact that the film is also co-directed by a woman makes it hit the sweet spot.  This film is both gorgeous and terrifying.  I cannot wait to watch it again.

Elias (Elias Schwarz) and Lukas (Lukas Schwarz) are hard to tell apart
The film opens with Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) galloping through some fields, exploring a cave, playing in a bog.  They're boys having fun in the great outdoors, and so what if their playground is so damn empty.  Nary a soul in sight.  Lukas seems to be the troublemaker of the two, constantly disappearing and running off.  Elias spends the majority of his time calling his brother's name.  For viewers, it's really hard to tell them apart. 

Mommy requires darkness, quiet, and rest, in order to recover
Soon enough, their Mommy (Susanne Wuest) comes home from a mysterious surgery.  She's wrapped in bandages, and it's clear that she's had some work done.  Whether this was elective surgery or not, she seems to have changed rather dramatically.  She's no longer sweet and sunny, singing them lullabies.  Instead, she demands the blinds drawn, quiet, and not to be disturbed.  For two rambunctious boys, those demands seem pretty impossible.  They start to grow suspicious.  Is this their mother, or some imposter?

Mommy is just not herself these days
The film's ambiguities are what truly make the film fascinating.  While most of the film's subjectivity is focalized through the twin boys, there are enough scenes where viewers get to spend time with Mommy to experience her point-of-view.  She gives off a palpable sadness, although it's not initially clear the cause.  Still, she's an incredibly enigmatic character, and the film's cinematography frames her as an otherworldy ghoul covered in bandages.  The filmmakers are clearly fans of George Franju's Les Yeux Sans Visage (1960), and that's a very good thing.

The things that kids get up to, with boxcutters and bugs
Now let's discuss those kids.  Holy Sh**.  This film rises to the top of my list of cautionary tales for would-be parents, right up there with the two films I mentioned previously.  I figured out some of the film's mysteries fairly early on, but knowing some twists makes the film more harrowing rather than less so, because the film allows us to identify with Mommy too, and things do not go well for her AT ALL.  For me, the first giveaway is that those twins keep a giant box of woodlouse and pillbugs next to their bed.  These bugs are beyond disgusting, and I'm sorry, but that's just not your average pet, even for smelly little boys.  Oh, and they are twins.  Twins are always bad news.

Mommy regards her own reflection
The film's settings, especially the contemporary house in which much of the action takes place, are really cool.  I was jealous of these lucky kids, even though the place seems pretty isolated.  That isolation becomes really important, especially in a scene where a couple of Red Cross volunteers come to ask for a donation.  Likewise, the simplest household objects become utterly menacing.  You will never think about super-glue the same way again.

What's disturbing about Goodnight Mommy is how much viewers are compelled to identify with those kids, and that identification turns into its own form of torture.  The film toys with childhood innocence, playing on cultural expectations of family.  These days, you're not a good mother unless you sacrifice everything for your children and you love every minute of it.  Any veering from that proper path seems to demand the most vicious of punishments.  Goodnight Mommy plays upon those feminine anxieties skillfully, illustrating the horrors that mothering demands in our contemporary world.  See this film as soon as you can, but brace yourself.  This film is the fuel of nightmares.