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Goodnight Mommy | Blu-ray Review

goodnight-mommy-blu-ray-coverDistributor TWC-Radius managed a difficult feat with an inspired marketing campaign for the release of foreign arthouse horror film Goodnight Mommy, the excellent directorial debut of duo Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. In its seventy days of release during its US theatrical run, the film racked up over a million in ticket sales and enjoyed some excellent word of mouth attention. The Venice premiered item has also acquired notable critical acclaim and, at the time of its Blu-ray release, has made it to the shortlist of possible nominees for a Best Foreign Language Academy Award nomination. Grisly, uncomfortable, and beautifully executed, it’s an unprecedented amount of attention considering the subject matter.

In the isolated Austrian countryside, nine-year-old twins Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) live alone with their mother (Susanne Wuest). Recently, she’s undergone cosmetic surgery, her face completely bandaged as she attempts to recover peacefully in their quiet home. No mention is made of where their father currently is, but we learn that mom is featured on a local television station, which would explain her current state. But her sons are becoming increasingly leery of her as she seems prone to upset and mild violent abuse, perhaps even favoring one of the boys over the other. Paging through old pictures of their mother, where all semblance of dad has been removed, they spy a picture of her with another woman that looks identical, only furthering their paranoia that she’s been replaced by a stranger. Collecting cockroaches in a fish tank and hiding a mangy stray cat under the bed only fosters more tension between them.

Beginning with a set-up that recalls Franju’s classic Eyes Without a Face, Franz and Fiala (nephew to Seidl) strike an ominous tone of brooding unease from the opening frames. The lonesome countryside, which shows the boys emerging from a field of corn into the sterility of their mother’s isolated home, we understand that she’s recently undergone some type of plastic surgery, which seems normal considering her occupation as a local television personality. Her children don’t quite seem to understand this, and are convinced that her increasingly erratic and violent behavior towards them means she is an imposter.

The setting, locale, and eventual terrorization will perhaps put one in mind of Haneke’s Funny Games, or even The White Ribbon, films that dwell on the breeding ground of monsters and how they’re nurtured. But as it reveals its more delicious twists, you’ll most likely be reminded of classic English language titles, such as De Palma’s Sisters or Cronenberg’s Dead Ringer. But most of all, considering we’re dealing with children, Fiala/Franz’s film recalls the vintage delight of 1972’s The Other, based on a famed Thomas Tryon novel, directed by Robert Mulligan and starring Uta Hagen.

Fiala/Franz also culls distinctive and arresting performances from the child actors, Elias and Lukas Schwarz—one only has to compare them to the leaden leads of another twin-centric release, The Notebook, an excellent film hampered by the wooden performances of its actors.

The title should be a nice calling card for Susanne Wuest, here a character that undergoes extremities that would surely make Haneke himself cringe. Her angular, glaringly white home may be sheik, but it induces a state of near paralytic discomfort from the moment we enter it, huge portraits of faded out, indiscernible female figures hanging on the wall, hammering home the motif of being hidden or unformed, empty shells of people drifting like ghosts through a stark environment.

Whenever we wander out of doors, Martin Gshlacht’s cinematography takes on a striking importance, thrusting us into the thick foliage of the ominous woods, or reflecting wide open expanses of endless fields. It’s as sinister as it is broodingly gorgeous. Gruesome and increasingly disquieting in ways that English language efforts seem increasingly unable to master, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz prove to be exciting directors in her own right and, best of all, you won’t forget how mommy gets put to bed.

Disc Review:

Anchor Bay’s Blu-ray release of the title arrives in widescreen 2.39:1 and is a splendid transfer of Martin Gschlact’s excellent cinematography. Upon a rewatch, the film is no less potent once you’re aware of its secrets and can perhaps focus on the subtle attenuations throughout. The disc’s lone special feature is definitely worth a look.

A Conversation:
Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz appear for this twelve minute interview finds the duo speaking about childhood inspirations of the film as well as the importance of angles and perspectives. They discuss the origins of thw twins, which was not the concept of the initial script.

Final Thoughts:

At one point this would have seemed another entry in a veritable horror subgenre, and Goodnight Mommy is the best example of twin terror to come along in years and announces Fiala and Severin as an auteur duo in the making.

Film Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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