Hello, all! I’ve been so wrapped up in Christmas that I barely had time to watch more than four movies! I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens yesterday and while I thought it was really awesome, I don’t feel that I have the proper authority to write a post about the film. So instead, I’ll write about what I do know, and that is horror movies! I do apologize, this blog has really turned into something of a horror fest. But anyways, one of the other four movies I watched on Christmas was Goodnight Mommy and boy, was that something. Here’s the trailer, if you’re unacquainted:
So first of all, this is one of the most intriguing and cleverly edited trailers of all time.
And the reason I say that is because the movie implied in the trailer is completely different from the actual movie. *Spoilers ahead*
From just watching the trailer, this is what I thought the movie would be about. Two young boys are suspicious of their mother after she returns home after undergoing a lengthy cosmetic procedure. Her actions provoke a sort of war between her and the children, hence the shot of one of the boys shaving a stick into a crossbow bolt. This premise really excited me because first of all, an “impostor” story can be really scary if it’s well done, and secondly, I love movies that revolve around masks. The first half of the movie delivered this premise, amazingly well I might add, but half-way through, the movie completely went off the rails and changed into something completely different.
The First Half (on the rails): Twin brothers Lukas and Elias play while their mother is away. When she returns, they see that her face is covered in eerie bandages. The operation isn’t fully explained, but we learn that it is for “cosmetic purposes.” The boys play a game like Hedbanz where they write a word on a card and tape it to their mother’s forehead for her to guess. Even though the word is “mom”, and they give her simple clues like her profession and the fact that she has two sons, she can’t guess her word. The situation becomes rocky as Mom lays down the ground rules: no visitors, no loud playing, and keep the blinds shut.
The boys try to play along, but things continue to grow worse. Mom won’t talk to Lukas or feed him or clothe him and slaps, manhandles, and verbally abuses Elias whenever he mentions him. The boys find a cat and hide it underneath the bed, but when they come home one afternoon they find it dead behind the furnace. The boys are suspicious of their mother’s identity. She loves to cook, yet orders a year’s worth of frozen pizzas, and she’s treating them in a way their mother never would.
I was genuinely freaked by the first half and loving every minute. The cinematography is blooming with color and sleekness, but there is so much silence (they live in an isolated Austrian town) that all the beauty seems unnatural. The usage of the mask is key; they could’ve let it slip or played it too much like a caricature, but they really emphasize the power that a few well-placed methods of disguise can have against facial recognition. Mommy’s eyes, nose, and mouth are all visible, yet the boys cannot tell for sure whether she’s their mother or not. Additionally, Mommy’s secretive, jerky movements make her seem like an otherworldly alien.
What really got me was her emotional and physical abuse of the children. It seemed, at least at the time, that she was punishing Lukas for some unknown act and trying to separate the twins by showing affection to one and not to the other. At this point, I was thinking that Goodnight Mommy was a unique, harrowing tale about an impostor controlling the life of two helpless children, sort of like a reverse Changeling. But then of course, what started as a great film sputtered and died.
The Second Half (off the rails): Mommy comes home again, but without her mask. Her face is still incredibly creepy. She tells the boys that she wants them all to be friends again. They run away and try to speak to a priest, but he returns them to their house. Then they find a picture in a photo album which shows their mother and a woman who looks exactly like her.
While Mommy is sleeping, the boys tie her to the bed and set up a trip wire around the house. They alternate between interrogating and torturing her (burning her cheek with a magnifying glass, super-gluing her lips shut, just boy stuff). Mommy can’t seem to get any of their questions right. They ask her what Lukas’ favorite song is, but she has no idea (even though the boys play a recording of her singing it before they sleep) and when they burn her cheek, they realize she has drawn on her birthmark. The boys fight over whether they should set her free, with Elias seemingly the most disturbed about keeping her in chains. At one point, she wets the bed, so the boys untie her to allow her to change the sheets. But she subdues them and flees the house, only to fall over the trip wire and get knocked unconscious. She awakens to discover that the boys have glued her to the floor.
While I was a bit disconcerted by the sudden verge into torture, I was still on board with the movie at this point. Mommy was seeming more and more like an impostor. I also liked the fact that the two boys were warring with each other, the more susceptible one (Elias) being controlled by the most abused one (Lukas). I did wonder at the speed in which the two boys transformed from children into inventive torturers (using a magnifying glass was not something I ever would have thought of). My ending prediction was something along the lines of the impostor revealing that she had killed the mom or that she was some supernatural demon-type creature inhabiting the mother’s body. But alas, it was not to be.
The Twist (the rails explode): Mommy begs the twins to release her, but they won’t until she reveals where their mother is. Mommy becomes tearful and tells Elias that she can’t pretend Lukas is alive anymore and the accident wasn’t his fault. Elias orders Mommy to tell him what Lukas is doing, but because she can’t see the same ghost as Elias, he sets the house on fire and they both burn to death. The last shot is of the two boys reunited with their mother in the corn field.
So I looked this up on my favorite pop-culture site The AV Club and I was super annoyed. The reviewer claimed that he’d seen this twist coming within the first ten minutes and countless people commenting agreed that they’d guessed it really early on.
My take: There are two ways you can look at the “twist” of this movie. Either the twist existed from the beginning or the movie took a sharp left halfway through and it was tacked on at the end. If we go with the first possibility, we run into some problems. Many of the comments referenced the fact that Mommy never acknowledged Lukas or fed/ clothed him as evidence that he never existed. They also said that when Elias and Lukas ventured outside and spoke to the priest, he only talked to Elias. But I think that’s all post-twist interpretation, as in these people only noticed it after they had learned the twist. It can be interpreted a very different way. To me, my first thought was that the mother was practicing horrible psychological abuse on Lukas. I felt as if she was taking the “silent treatment” to a whole new level. I didn’t exactly understand why, but it seemed to me not that she was only setting one place because she only had one son, but because she was pointedly ignoring Lukas. This rang some bells with me, not because my mother ever did anything like this to me (we have a wonderful relationship I promise!!), but because it sounded like parenting disorders I’d previously read about. In one scene, Mommy drags Elias into the bathroom, locks the door, and slaps him repeatedly until he agrees not to listen to his brother anymore. She tells him not to even acknowledge him. Sure, it makes sense that she would do this in an attempt to dissuade Elias from imagining Lukas’ ghost, but it also makes sense that she was trying to divide the boys and was using emotional manipulation to achieve that end. The question of whether the priest could see Lukas can also be explained by the fact that Elias was the more dominant of the two, at least publicly, and that the priest wasn’t oblivious to Lukas, but was paying attention to Elias because he the only twin speaking.
Another thing that seems suspect to me is Elias’ behavior during the second half of the film. Is it possible for two boys, each egging on the other and using psychological pressure, to torture a woman they think is an impostor? Yes, definitely. But for one boy to do that to a woman who he knows IS his mother is certainly less probable. Elias is characterized as the more vulnerable child while Lukas is the one who urges on the torture. If Lukas doesn’t exist, then that must mean that Elias has some sort of multiple personality disorder or is highly delusional, but we have no evidence of that besides the fact that his mom “reveals” the twist at the end. And if there was only Elias all along, how on earth did he drag his mother all the way downstairs and glue her to the floor? He’s only a frail ten-year-old.
If the “twist” remains intact, then the beginning of the movie doesn’t make sense. Mommy still physically and emotionally abuses Elias. She may or may not have killed his cat, and she definitely drowned all of his cockroaches. And why doesn’t she know her child’s favorite song or answer any of the questions Elias poses rationally? I think that by trying to keep the “twist” in play, the filmmakers obstructed and obstructed the plot until it no longer made sense. You can have either an impostor movie or a ghost child movie, but you can’t have both. That’s what disappointed me the most. I feel like the filmmakers started out with this amazing idea and copped out at the end to add a cliched ghost child twist. Because imagine how far they could’ve gone if they’d continued with the original plot? Would the boys turn against each other? Would Mommy turn out to be some sort of evil creature? Even by intensifying the emotional abuse, they could’ve gone so much further.
That’s my take on the movie. I still think that it’s worth watching for the cinematography alone. The music was great too, but I can’t find it anywhere. All in all, it was a very chilling movie, much scarier than It Follows and about the same level as The Babadook, with many of the same themes now that I think about it. Is it the scariest movie of 2015? Maybe. Is it the scariest trailer? Definitely.
Another interesting comment thread on the A.V Club’s article was about torture porn, and how some viewers (and many others who had never seen the film!) thought that this movie fell into that category. Yes, there is some torture, but no way is it torture porn. It wasn’t exploitative violence, it was purposeful, plot-based violence. Just thought I’d clarify that for anyone still on the fence about watching the movie.