Goodnight Mommy/Ich Seh, Ich Seh 2015 -Review

“The scariest trailer ever?” Well, that’s one way to advertise a film in which the actual subject matter does not hold up. While the internet was abuzz for a short time concerning the trailer to Goodnight Mommy, the film’s actual reception has been approving but lukewarm. After seeing the film, I can’t imagine how it could have been otherwise. To preface my review for Goodnight Mommy, let me first introduce a mini-review for the trailer. Visually, and in terms of its premise, Goodnight Mommy had something great going for it: the face of the bandage-covered mother who appears eerily silent…

Review Overview

Acting
Visuals/Camera
Sound
Story
Pacing/Editing
Characters
Entertainment Value/X-factor
Mood/Atmosphere

Goodnight, Lukas

A psychological horror concerning a family in turmoil. Above-average where mood and acting are concerned, but strictly average when it comes to plot and suspense.

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“The scariest trailer ever?” Well, that’s one way to advertise a film in which the actual subject matter does not hold up. While the internet was abuzz for a short time concerning the trailer to Goodnight Mommy, the film’s actual reception has been approving but lukewarm. After seeing the film, I can’t imagine how it could have been otherwise.

To preface my review for Goodnight Mommy, let me first introduce a mini-review for the trailer.

Visually, and in terms of its premise, Goodnight Mommy had something great going for it: the face of the bandage-covered mother who appears eerily silent and withdrawn in the face of her frightened sounding twin boys. As the trailer goes on, she never speaks a word, and only interacts with one son by slapping his face. The background music intensifies. The boys wonder whether or not the bandaged woman truly is their mother, and ponder how it must be to have an operation. The whole affair is peppered with striking imagery, none of which the audience is given a whole lot of context for. By the end, the viewer is left wondering whether the children, or the mother, are going to turn out to be the monster at the end of the film. Although the children seem the more likely candidates, given that spooky homemade masks are typically a bad sign.
oie_XjrLXkQC3SQ7All the same, a psychological horror film centered around what I assumed was plastic surgery is interesting little-explored ground. I love horror films that delve into the dark, selfish sides of human psychology, I love horror that centers around fracturing family dynamics, I love a good slow-burn in general, and I was eager to see how the little pieces in the trailer all fit together in the end.

On all counts and more, I was disappointed. The preview for the film spoils the most effective visual shock in the piece (which is a throwaway gag, serving only to add to the twins’ already established sense of paranoia), and presents a scene which is creepier than anything in the film through use of manipulative editing, which seems nothing short of groanworthy in retrospect. Beyond those, and a few similar scenes which seem far more unnerving in the preview than in the film itself, Goodnight Mommy offers little for horror or thriller fans to love. For those who don’t want spoilers, skip to the last paragraph of the review.


 

A horror film that is all “slow” and no “burn” is never a good thing, and even more so when the subject matter being handled has every right to be volatile and nerve-wracking. Goodnight Mommy does not deliver on this potential for a number of reasons.

I’ll begin by saying, yes, the kids are the monsters in this one. It is a psycho kid film, and I’m not going to fault that in itself. What’s disappointing is that for a trailer that put so much emphasis on the mother’s condition, there is too little in the way of evidence that the mother could be the villain of the piece. All the ambiguity that could have been made from the family dynamic is sparse and fleeting in the film. The mother never seems so overly strict or tightly-wound as to seem monstrous, and unlike in the trailer, she communicates with her children often. The plastic surgery angle, while it is thematically significant, is never truly a source of suspense. From early on, it’s heavily hinted that the twin brothers’ suspicions are all in their heads, which renders their torturous antics tiresome rather than tense, and makes two dream sequences serving as red herrings feel unnecessary.

I will say that for all my complaints, the film was a little above-average, thanks in no small part to the film’s performances, and to some eye-catching camera work. The technical aspects partially redeemed the film and made it consistently entertaining, if only occasionally unnerving. In a way, the much-hyped trailer set the film up for failure through mis-advertising. And while I shouldn’t and can’t criticize a film for its international advertising department (the original Austrian trailer is truer to what we get in the film proper), beyond the way it was marketed, Goodnight Mommy is a very standard thriller with only a few artistic touches to distinguish it from its peers.

They really don’t do anything to distinguish the kids from other contemporary enfant-terrible in recent memory. They wear juvenile masks as with Henry Evans from The Good Son and Jack and Emily Poe from Home Movie. They murder their parents not out of spite, but out of loyalty to an evil cause, as with the kids from Children of the Corn, Dolly Dearest and Sinister. Part of their turning to the dark side comes when they find a corridor full of skeletal remains near their home; a variation on the scene of unearthing dark secrets that’s become so common lately, there is again little to set this example apart, and it’s never directly referenced again. The suspense that could have been mined from this scene, as well as other scenes in which the mother seems to be lost in her own fantasy world, never reaches any sort of peak, and such scenes end up feeling largely wandering and unconducive to the film as a complete thriller.

While the film has a beautiful picturesque-but-lonely style keeping the film aesthetically intriguing, as well as consistent characterization to keep it from self-parody, the plot is nothing that film fans haven’t seen before. The eventual kidnap and torture scenes are by-the-numbers, hitting the typical story beats of near-missed-rescuer, injury during ungagging, and escape attempt which fails due to a conveniently-placed tripwire, with only teasing hints of innovation to be found (one of the boys wants to release the woman he still believes to be his mother, but the dynamic is back to normal in short order). There was also a twist that I predicted about halfway through, an easy task since there were numerous signposts already seen in other movies in which a similar twist had been used. I’m tempted to ruin the ending just because it’s been done so many times, it’s hardly worth keeping secret. So I’ll compromise and say, this movie has the same basic twist as Dead Man’s Shoes, A Tale of Two Sisters, 1972’s The Other. If you’ve seen the latter, you’ve seen Goodnight Mommy done better.

The last shot of the film is memorably bittersweet and brings at least one character arc to a satisfying conclusion, but it’s only a minor saving grace, not strong enough to make the entire movie seem worthwhile.
Unless you haven’t yet cut your teeth on “family turmoil” horror, or are conversely a huge fan of the subgenre and find something to love in every competent example of it, I can’t recommend Ich Seh Ich Seh/Goodnight Mommy. It just doesn’t do enough to either separate itself from its precursors, or bring enough in the way of tension to the table to overlook its more derivative areas. Since it is generally well-directed, consistent, and not without some moments of intensity, I will say it’s worth a watch if you’re in the mood for an old formula with some fresh character motivations put into the mix. Just don’t go in expecting the “new classic” that everyone seems to be waiting for.

About Mitchell Boyd

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