Often, the most emotionally affecting films are those revolving around the violation of the domestic space and the family dynamic- The Exorcist (1973), Poltergeist (1982) The Bad Seed (1956) and Hereditary (2018). The idea that the evil can pervade our most sacrosanct home is more terrifying than any promiscuous teenager- mutilating slasher. Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s 2014 Austrian psychological horror Goodnight Mommy takes this idea and runs a full-on marathon with it.
Eleven -year- old twins Lukas and Elias (played by real-life siblings Lukas and Elias Schwarz) are enjoying an idyllic summer at their rural home, spending their days tramping the countryside while awaiting the arrival of their mother (Susanne Wuest) who is away undergoing plastic surgery. But when she finally returns, they’re shocked- bruised and swaddled in bandages from her recent surgery, she’s unrecognisable and has a stricter, borderline- emotionally abusive attitude, subjecting the boys to gruelling chores. As time goes on, the brothers become doubtful whether she actually is their mother. They decide to take matters into their own hands, with devastating consequences.
Like the titular swathed figure of the title, the film is layered with horror, which unravels over the course of the runtime, revealing various twists and turns hidden beneath and escalating to to a nail-biting climax. Despite the limited cast, their superb performances keep the viewer watching through enclosed fingers. The Schwarz brothers, despite their young age, give a performance that rivals most adult actors. Susanne Wuest deserves special mention as well, depicting a figure who is both terrifying and by the end of the film, deeply sympathetic. Though the violence that escalates at the end is a jarring turn from the subtly building psychological horror and at times seems exploitative, it serves as a memorable crescendo to a masterfully conducted symphony of horror. Blending elements of Brothers Grimm- esque fairy tale with visceral modern horror, Goodnight Mommy is a terse, tender psychological thriller.