Cinematic Releases: Goodnight Mommy

Andrew checked out the Austrian creepy parent shocker, Goodnight Mommy

The debut of Austrian writer-director team Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, Ich Seh Ich Seh (I See, I See, or the hastily rendered U.S. title Goodnight Mommy), is the latest post traumatic stress disorder driven horror thriller in what is quickly becoming a popular international subgenre.  Something of an inverse The Babadook with dashes of Jacob's Ladder and even Lost Highway, Ich Seh Ich Seh is a sterilized, minimalist slow burn towards extreme violence.  

The story of two young boys, Elias and Lukas (played by twin brothers Elias and Lukas Schwarz), who live in the isolated Austrian countryside inside their sleek ultramodern home begin to notice there's something off about their post-plastic surgery mother.  Covered in facial bandages carefully cloaking bruises and scars, the unnamed mother (Susanne Wuest) creeps about the household in shadow, keeping the blinds shut like a vampire as she imposes stricter rules and alien hostility upon her sons.

Released by RADiUS, the loose reworking of bandaged faced horror iconography from Georges Franju's Eyes Without a Face is equal parts Nicolas Winding Refn and Park Chan-Wook in terms of pure style.  Those familiar with Drive and Only God Forgives will spot images from behind the heads of characters staring off into a black void as well as the Cliff Martinez inspired glass harp score by Olga Neuwirth.  What struck me the most about Ich Seh Ich Seh is how quiet the picture is.  Where The Babadook spared no expense in cranking up the volume during key screams, Ich Seh Ich Seh is largely understated sonically with most of the sounds coming from the front speakers with little in the way of music beyond transitional cues to inform the viewer how to accept the events unfolding.  Borrowing heavily from David Lynch with tropes including but not limited to dopplegangers, nightmare sequences and drastic shifts in tonality, the film at first appears to be a pretty direct creepy parent chiller.  Just as we're settling into the sustained cool rhythms of the piece, it shifts gears , veering towards sociopathy as it becomes a deeply disturbing and increasingly transgressive exercise in abject horror with tortures that would make the Danish auteur of cool violence blush. 

"We are not identical twins."
Let it be said this is a visually stunning work with a brilliantly subtle sound design, providing the viewer with just enough information and mood to fill in the blanks themselves.  Cinematography couldn't help but remind me of Park Chan-Wook's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance in terms of framing, key camera placement and editing.  In terms of acting, the two Schwarz's and Susanne Wuest are three of the creepiest performances in recent memory.  There's something just plain unnerving about the sight of the bandaged mother staring at herself in the mirror ad-nauseam without movement.  All three actors are fantastic here and Even Italian horror maestro Lucio Fulci's penchant for creepy crawlers is exploited to pitch perfect use here with many extended shots of the twins' pet hissing cockroach terrarium.  At last, there is a scene in a film involving insects that is more hair raising than the cave sequence in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Then there are those damn recurring images of a dead cat in a fish tank only serve to tip the film further into demented territory.  When Ich Seh Ich Seh isn't making your hair stand on end, it's intent on shocking you.

Overall, Ich Seh Ich Seh is an unnerving frontal assault but where The Babadook was more reliant on scares, this loose kid cousin tends towards the artistry of a punch.  It's a fine tuned and taut creeper which proceeds to attack the viewer physically as the level of violence intensifies.  For as many buckets of blood and guts Eli Roth can throw at the camera, Ich Seh Ich Seh was infinitely more unsettling and difficult to watch.  One of the rare chillers to come full circle in the end with a satisfying payoff which gives the picture a deeper context, this is probably the best horror film you'll see in theaters this October!  Though I'm not ready to say it was as good as The Babadook quite yet, it channels its own unique blend of terror and desire to appall.  This is also not a jump scare thriller but a sustained and controlled descent into madness which, like Antichrist, is punctuated by brutal and seemingly out of nowhere shocks.  Not the scariest film I saw this year but definitely a solid effort with many dark twists and turns that can't help but make you shudder upon reflection.


-Andrew Kotwicki

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