The Next Reel continues their Horror Debut series with Veronika Franz's and Severin Fiala's 2014 film Goodnight Mommy

Goodnight Mommy

The second of six in our Horror Debuts series. Aunt/Nephew writer/director pair Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala tackle twins, possible doppelgängers, and family grief in this slow build of a horror film. It’s incredibly well-crafted but how does the story work for us. Tune in to find out!

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"We want our mom back.”

Two Directors With a Shared Voice for Horror

Directing duos are rare, but it may be a completely unique situation to have a directing duo be an aunt/nephew pair. That’s the case with Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, the writers/directors of Goodnight Mommy. When they realized they shared a love for horror films, this duo decided to pursue it and to date have three horror features under their belt. They certainly found a strength in their tone and style, which was clear right out of the gate with their narrative debut.

Join us – Pete Wright and Andy Nelson – as we continue our Horror Debuts series with Franz’s and Fiala’s 2014 film Goodnight Mommy.

From the tone to the story, we have a lot to say about Goodnight Mommy.

Goodnight Mommy is an exercise in cinematography that evokes mood. From the framing to the lighting, Franz and Fiala, along with cinematographer Martin Gschlacht, use the camera to set a tone of horror and discomfort right from the start. Even when the two twin boys, Elias and Lukas, adventure through the woods, they capture it with an aura of tension. Nothing feels safe. We love brilliant cinematography and that holds true here. (This was something that worked well for Steve and Ray in their conversation about Franz’s and Fiala’s The Lodge, which they talked about here on Trailer Rewind.)

But how does the story hold up? It’s one of those films with a big surprise. We both picked up on it right away. Does that ruin the film? Or perhaps leave it feeling plodding? We come at that from two perspectives and in the end think it works either way. The question still remains if the film just becomes boring afterward.

The performances are top notch both from the twins, played by Lukas and Elias Schwarz, and from Susanne Wuest playing their mother. It says a lot about the directors what they were able to get from these kids. It also says a lot about Wuest who has to act for half the film with her head wrapped up in bandages. Even when the story feels a bit incredulous, their performances work brilliantly.

Do we buy the story?

But speaking to the story feeling incredulous, particularly as it builds toward its conclusion, how much do we care that it’s not as believable? Or does it ruin the film when we never see the mother call the father to discuss the children? Or doesn’t put them in grief counseling? Are we able to look past those issues and just assume Mommy is making some dumb decisions that pushes things a certain way? (Even though we spoil the film thoroughly in our conversation, we’re trying not to spoil it here.) Where is the line in the decisions that get made that’s too far?

And speaking of ‘too far,’ what is up with those Red Cross workers? Is there something we don’t know about Austrian customs as far as unlocked doors? Because these two Red Cross workers looking for donations who swing by to ask for money then just won’t leave after the child says Mom’s not home definitely cross the line for us. It’s a great tense scene, but it’s nonsense because it’s only here to serve the plot – not the reality of the story. But can we keep it anyway?

The concept of coping mechanisms to deal with grief play strongly in this film. We like how they tie to the concept of lullabies as a way to sooth children. This film largely works, even with some of its less believable elements, because this theme holds strong and creates a frightening portrait of unmanaged grief at the worst of possible moments that leads to devastating consequences. The film is certainly one to watch.

It has its problems, but is immensely watchable.

There are enough issues we find with the story that we’d be hard-pressed to give this film five stars. Still, it’s a fun watch – and beautiful to look at for a horror film. We have a great time talking about it on the show this week. This is definitely an episode to listen to after you’ve seen the movie, so check it out then tune in! The Next Reel – when the movie ends, our conversation begins!

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