Goodnight Mommy

Trust the Austrians to put forward as their Oscar submission a wincingly nasty horror film, in which a woman (Susanne Wuest) returns home after surgery with a bandaged face and erratic behaviour, leaving her twin sons (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) suspicious that this woman is not their mother. 

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The film opens with some Von Trapp family singing, before the Sound of Music turns into the Sound of Screaming. This ironic opening sets up the film’s skewering of contemporary Austria, with themes of abuse, motherhood and inter-generational resentment festering beneath the polished surface of the family’s clean, modernist home.

What follows is a wonderfully unsettling reminder that the best horror is still being made outside the English-speaking market, made chillingly believable by the Schwarz brothers’ realistic childhood performances, as kids von-trapped in a house with a woman they no longer trust.

Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s direction is bold enough not only to eschew jump scares, but also to stage certain scenes in total darkness. Their daunting, deliberate pacing creates an atmosphere of creeping dread, while the narrative ambiguity shifts our sympathies around as layers are peeled away like bandages. 

Goodnight Mommy is a starkly brilliant slice of Austrian cinema, mostly set in one location with three characters, like 10 Cloverfield Lane but better in every conceivable way – not least because the title isn’t a bloody spoiler.

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