Runtime: 1 hr. 40 min. | Rated R | $6.50 at Athena Cinema
As the summer draws to a close, two twin boys finally get to live with their mother again. She’s been away for awhile, recovering from extensive surgery to her face. She arrives bandaged up — she acts differently. She doesn’t seem like the old mom. Is it someone else? Is it even human? Or are the boys’ imaginations running wild.
Goodnight Mommy is a foreign horror film out of Austria that received critical acclaim when it released last year. It has been in the states since Sept. 11 and is currently being shown at the Athena Cinema.
It’s hard to argue with the critics on this one.
This film is mysterious — tasking the viewer to put the creepy puzzle pieces together. It’s suspenseful and dread-inducing. As the boys get more suspicious of their mother(?), they do more sneaking around. The heightened suspense comes from the fact that you don’t know for sure what that thing that came home is. She could reveal her true form at anytime and things could get ugly in a split second.
It is a horror film by definition, one that pairs disgusting images with a feeling of unease. It is also, at times, hard to watch but not in a way you’d expect. It’s understated. It’s believable. It feels real.
Thirty minutes before the film ends, you may be confused. You’ll be forced to watch some disturbing things and you’ll want it to be over as badly as you want to know what happens next. Then, the twist ending arrives and it all makes sense. The movie’s ending pays off in a big way and instantly made me want to see it through again.
The film felt like an extended, modern episode of the ’60s television series “The Twilight Zone” — lauded for its pacing, minimalism and its proficiency at inducing dread. One of Rod Serling’s iconic monologues would fit perfectly following the twist ending of Goodnight Mommy. I suppose it would have to be in German though.
Some people may not like to read subtitles but that’s not something that has ever bothered me. Its European setting — with its beauty and inherent creepiness — elevates the movie. It wouldn’t be the same without it and having subtitles is so much better than any alternative.
Goodnight Mommy is a unique horror film that has superb pacing, performances and cinematography. The worst parts of horror films are jump scares — they’re cheap and unsatisfying. This film has largely avoided this practice. There are loud noises at times but the film is scary and suspenseful because of its disturbing images and a turn you won’t see coming.
See it at the Athena (plays daily at 9:50 p.m. with 7:30 p.m. shows on Tuesday & Thursday) while its still there or find a way to watch it on a streaming service — if it ever gets there. Maybe play it safe and see it at the Athena.