After watching a substantial number of films with somewhat similar plots, one can lose hope that an original narrative still exists out there. That is probably why I was so pleasantly surprised with the abundance of plot twists and riddles offered by the Austrian directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz in their 2014 movie Goodnight Mommy (Original title: Ich seh, Ich seh).
The action in the film is set in an isolated, upscale home housing a family of three: identical twins Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) and their mother (Susanne Wuest). A past divorce and a subsequent accident (it isn’t quite clear of what nature) significantly alter the otherwise harmonic life of the family. The mother had to undertake harsh facial surgery and, when she returns to her sons, her head is completely wrapped in bandages – giving her a scary appearance. And it’s not only just her physical appearance that’s changed, but her complete behavior is altered, especially towards her sons. From loving to abusive, the alteration is so big that the boys start doubting if the person wrapped in those bandages really is their mother, who formerly showered them with kisses and affection.
Inevitably, reacting to the unkind demands of the mother, Lukus and Elias develop a sense of paranoia and mistrust, replacing their former carefree childhood innocence. Not able to bear the ongoing abuse that now takes a physical as well as a mental form, the two brothers decide to act upon their suspicion…
Until the very end (and arguably even after the final credits have rolled) one remains puzzled about the true nature of the events that have unfolded on the screen. This uncertainty, combined with the highly charged atmosphere and suspense, keeps the viewer tense for almost the entire length of the film. It’s a riddle that one tries to solve — fitting together the pieces of information gained from actions of the film’s protagonists and from their surroundings.
Aesthetically, the film shares more common traits with the horror genre than with dramas, considering the way the scenes are staged and shot. The cinematographic approach and the tense musical score give a nightmarish outlook to the setting – turning the family home into a dreadful domicile. Some of the scenes feature stomach-turning deeds which are sometimes shocking, making Goodnight Mommy a film that is not suitable for younger audiences and/or sensitive ones.
The gradual development of the characters, especially of the brothers Schwarz — whose fragile appearance is juxtaposed with the seriousness and determination of adulthood — introduces a Coming-of-Age motif to the narrative.
If you view it, admittedly the plot twists may leave you a bit confused, but you won’t even get angry. Instead of just an easy to figure out, typical gory story, you’ll be presented with one that will engage your interest and challenge your perceptions of reality and fantasy. After all, just because something exists only in one’s mind, doesn’t mean it’s not real.