Movie Review - Goodnight Mommy

This is the official submission from Austria for Best Foreign Language Film at the 88th Academy Awards. It could be classified as a drama or a horror film, but it's a film that plays with too much vagueness to classify properly as anything. Writer-director Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz follows two prepubescent boys at a summer home outside Vienna who wait for the return of their mother from a surgery. When she returns, the two boys stop believing that she is their mother and begin to do bad things because of it.

Fiala and Franz utilize vagueness in order to build mystery, but it comes at the expense of story. It ultimately steals from M. Night Shyamalan's The Sixth Sense, but didn't really learn any of the lessons of why that film was great. Essentially, it just wants to be another film about a little boy who sees dead people, but it doesn't want to be a true character study or explore the emotions of anyone involved.

Susanne Wuest stars as the mother in question. Fiala and Franz don't reveal her name and do so little to dig into her character or explore her thought processes at all. The movie is told mostly from the children's point-of-view, which is unnecessary, but even if it were, it doesn't explain the mother's actions at any point.

First off, the two boys are left all alone, while the mother is away having surgery, facial surgery that seems like it would take some time, if more than a day. Yes, the two boys look like they're 11 or 12, maybe even 13, but it just felt weird that she would leave the boys unsupervised for so long.

It's hinted that the mom was injured in an accident, which the boys might have also been involved. Yet, there's no indication of how long ago that was, or how bad it was, or anything. There's also no sense that the mother has had any kind of conversation with the boys of the accident, the surgery or anything substantial.

Even later in the film when things turn horrific, the mother doesn't talk to her sons. Her sons don't believe she's their mother, so I don't get why she doesn't try to prove otherwise. Why doesn't she try to make any argument or any kind of rational case? Why doesn't she share memories or things only their mother would know? Wouldn't that help to convince the boys? Yet, she stays silent mostly.

At one point, the sons run away. They eventually come back and one would think she would sit down and talk to them, but she doesn't. Her parenting style might be such where she doesn't do that, but the film doesn't explore that either or does much to develop or build that that could be her style.

No, the movie is so concerned with being mysterious. It loses sight of humanity or character. Understandably, the lead characters are children and putting too much on them is a gamble. Yet, if Abraham Attah from Beasts of No Nation and Jacob Tremblay in Room can carry as much weight as they did in those two recent films, then it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to think Elias Schwarz and Lukas Schwarz who play the two boys here couldn't accomplish the same.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated R for disturbing violent content and some nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 39 mins.


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