Nine-year-old twins summer in the country, awaiting the return of their mother from extensive plastic surgery. Exhilaratingly hostile horror, “Goodnight Mommy” (Ich seh, Ich seh, or “I See, I See”) is a bold, emotionally raw directorial debut from Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, produced by Ulrich Seidl, who discomfitingly straddles nonfiction and fiction with his monocled eye in movies like “Dog Days” and his recent “Paradise” trilogy. (Franz has collaborated with Seidl since 1997 and been a production partner since 2003; Fiala is his nephew.) Is that really mommy behind that swath of bandages? Two minds meld as one to guarantee a stranger does not head the household. A little “Eyes Without A Face,” a little “Dead Ringers,” with some of the bracing provocation of “Dogtooth,” “Goodnight Mommy” is also reminiscent of the wicked games of their countryman Michael Haneke. Then there’s the soul-sickness of any number of damned children that would wish the outside world to the cornfield. Martin Gschlacht’s 35mm widescreen images pop and burst and glow with nightmarish vivacity, and intent sound design largely substitutes for a scare score. Dolls, mannequins and masks abound, as do powerhouse images like hissing cockroaches, a village that seems never to have been populated and a nude woman wandering and shrieking in a forest. Of their bejeweled terror, Franz and Fiala write, “We love physical cinema–cinema that overpowers you. But at the same time, with our story, we are trying to ask questions that for us are existential; questions that deal with life’s realities, questions about education and the balance of power between families, identity and above all about the monster within.” Monstrous! Yes! “Goodnight Mommy” is simply monstrous. Gloriously monstrous. With Susanne Wuest, Lukas & Elias Schwarz, Hans Escher, Elfriede Schatz, Karl Purker, 99m. 2.40 widescreen. (Ray Pride)
“Goodnight Mommy” opens Friday, September 25 at the Music Box.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.