Review: Goodnight Mommy


A cruel and squalid torture flick with a thin pretentious veneer of "arthouse" clichés

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I genuinely wish that I had not watched this film. Please do not understand this as some kind of underhand praise, as an ironic enticement based on bad psychology. It is a cold and cruel film without any of the style or substance which might have redeemed it.

The film revolves around two solitary Austrian boys, Elias and Lukas, who live in a large remote house and play quietly together in sunlit cornfields and lakesides and dark ominous coves. Their silent games are interrupted by the return of their disfigured mother, her head bound in bandages hiding mysterious injuries. But the boys begin to wonder whether this mother is indeed the same mother who left them.

As a special case, I can reveal that there is a twist. This is not something that I would normally reveal, but it is a special case because the twist is, from the beginning of the film, so blazingly obvious that I cannot believe the filmmakers did not make it so on purpose. Nevertheless, there is a generic reveal moment for the twist later in the film, generic in every way except that it reveals something that a moderately incurious child would have long before spotted.

I could forgive a film such as this for its cruelty and banality in some circumstances. But never mind what those are – the film is so supremely unsatisfying, so deadeningly, anaemically lacking in nourishment and aesthetic redemption that there was no question of those circumstances arising.

Why? Because this film has a cold and dark heart, borne of a childish fascination with depravity. There is nothing more to its plot than what this dark heart feeds into it. This would be bad enough in itself, but the filmmakers’ evident lack of understanding of how to move and affect an audience means that they keep reaching for the bluntest instruments and brightest colours to construct their picture. The clearest evidence of this is their rather pathetic attempt to appeal to pretentious film bores by making the film “art-house”, filling the gaps in the semi-existent plot with long dark silences, “weird” dream sequences, synthetic horrors and cold, hard stares.

With everything I have just said in mind, I must end by asking you to take my word for it. Do not carry out your own investigation. I have watched this film so that you do not have to. Do something good and worthwhile with your next hundred minutes. Call your grandmother. Give blood. Walk by a lake and feed the swans. You will be happier that way. Do not waste your time with this squalid and sordid picture.

Goodnight Mommy (2014), directed by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz, is distributed in the UK by Vertigo Releasing. Certificate 15. 


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Third-year philosophy student minoring in Russian.

1 Comment

  1. Scott Williams on

    I don’t completely disagree, but I do think that props should be given to the cinematography, which was pretty great, and the locations. I didn’t hate the film, but it certainly was a poor man’s Amoldovar. If you didn’t like this but thought some of the ideas about disfigurement and surgery and identity were interesting, I would highly recommend that director’s The Skin I Live In, great film.

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