Mommy Dearest

Writer/director Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s impressive debut feature Goodnight, Mommy (Ich seh, ich seh) is a rarity – an art-house smash that’s also a horror film. Austria’s selection for the upcoming Academy Awards didn’t earn a nomination but is nevertheless making waves on these shores two years after its original release overseas.

Newcomers Elias and Lukas Schwarz play twin brothers, named Elias and Lukas. Their mother (Susanne Wuest) has returned from the hospital after facial reconstruction, her bandaged face suggesting no less than Franju’s 1960 classic Eyes Without a Face (Les yeux sans visage) – hardly the first genre reference the film makes, nor the last.

The twins quickly become convinced that this woman (who is never named) is an impostor, treating her with suspicion and hostility – which she reciprocates to some degree, thus sparking an escalating game wills between of mother (?) and sons (?).

Lest one think Elias and Lukas are innocents, they indulge in an insect collection – which figures in the proceedings — and sometimes visit a nearby cave filled with human bones. The squeamish are hereby forewarned.

Beautifully shot by Martin Gschlacht and well-acted by its tiny cast, the film has the air of a Grimm fairy tale – sometimes very grim indeed – which is only appropriate given its Austrian location. Yet it’s steeped in modern trappings, particularly the house where much of the action takes place. Goodnight Mommy is very much a guessing game. What’s real and what isn’t? Who’s real and who’s not? Franz and Fiala drop some little hints, and some large ones too.

Horror films needn’t make sense, and good horror films – like this one – can get away with it, because they treat the genre with respect. Goodnight Mommy earns its cult-classic status … which means some American studio will probably remake it at some point.

(In German with English subtitles)

Goodnight Mommy is still playing at RED Cinemas (1305 Battleground Ave., Greensboro) and is also available on DVD ($22.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($26.99 retail) from Anchor Bay Entertainment !

MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2016, Mark Burger.