While we do enjoy foreign films—sometimes they’re the best things out, and there will usually be a couple of them in our yearly top tens—there is the fact that, not being part of the culture, you miss out on some references, and on the zeitgeist, if you will, that a particular movie is released into. The flipside of that is, occasionally, you may be reading something into a scene that wasn’t intended by the auteurs.
For example, in the Austrian psychodrama/horror Goodnight, Mommy, there is this exchange, after the titular “Mommy” finds a lighter tucked away in the top bunk of her sons’ bed.
Mommy: Why is there a lighter up here?
Son: I wanted to burn some books.
It got a big laugh. At least from and, I think, some others in the theater. Something about Austrians who like to burn books. But I really don’t know if they meant for there to be a laugh there or not. It’s sort of odd to think that it was deliberate, but hard to figure out any way that wasn’t meant sort of sarcastically.
Apart from that, and an opener featuring archive footage of the Von Trapp singing a lullaby, there wasn’t anything overt I noticed about Goodnight, Mommy, which is the story of twins who are spooked when their mother comes home from the hospital, with her face wrapped in bandages (cosmetic surgery) and who seems to be an alien bent on sucking their souls from their bodies.
Or not. It’s hard to say, really.
She’s certainly acting odd, though. The Boys devise various schemes to uncover her true identity and locate their real mom, which take on increasingly more intrusive and even shocking tactics.
Familial horror can go wrong in so many ways. We’ve seen good ones in recent years, like Mama and The Orphan, and some disasters, like Come and Play. But this film steers well clear of the more exploitative approaches to give a kind of mystery that’s mostly satisfactorily resolved. Things like: Why the surgery? Why live in such an isolated place? Why does the mother have such a harsh relationship with one of the boys? And so on.
The Boy really liked it. I figured it out in the first act, so I was less impressed by the climax. We both agreed that what was nice about it is that the movie didn’t cheat. If it’s going to spring a twist and/or turn on you, it needs to be able to back it up, not just randomly say, “Aha! It was a dream all along!” (Not the case here, by the way.) That drives both of us nuts. The down side, of course, is that occasionally some member of your audience is going to figure it out from the clues.
But it’s better to be self-spoiled than to feel cheated. We both rated the film positively. There’s not much violence, though what there has a very real and shocking feel to it. A solid horror.