It begins with snarled technicolor footage of a lederhosen lullaby, singing to you that, if God deems, you’ll awake from your gentle slumbers little children.
Despite the Cannes accolades and the presence of Juliette Binoche, when audiences find out that the bulk of Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke‘s work could essentially be called horror? They stay away in droves. No matter how calming a reviewer’s tone or all the four star ratings. Horror is horror. Avoid the H-word and call it a thriller, but if it looks like a gore drenched duck possessed of the worst in human nature and quacks like a gore drenched duck possessed of the worst in human nature…
And heaven knows we’re all waiting just aquiver for Eli Roth‘s Green Inferno, but the sadder bottom line of the body count aesthetic for “pure” horror fans is it’s just timid, banal storytelling of a different kind.
Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh, Ich seh) is good and it engages and it’s tense and beautiful to see. It also falls into the “thoughtful” horror genre and calling it that won’t slow the headlong flight in the opposite direction of most viewers.
Much like the masterful and surreal Dutch film Borgman (2013) it’s not evil that’s at work here. It’s not even malevolence. Co-director Veronika Franz said a childhood memory of her mother playing “monster” sparked the idea for the film. Someone you knew has changed and is now different. Maybe they did something awful to the real person and maybe now they mean you harm.
Twin boys Lukas and Elias play in the buzzing, green cornfields surrounding their house. Their mother returns from the hospital, her face bandaged. She interacts stiffly with her sons and asks for quiet so she can heal. A game of twenty questions is layered with tension. It’s not clear how long she’s been away. Backlit in a bedroom doorway she’s menacing and insect-like. Her bruised eye peers accusingly as it’s reflected in a mirror. Her demeanor is alien. She seems to play the boys against each other. She removes the bandages and asks the boys what they think of her face. “Her” face?
The film isn’t a nightmare, but it’s a lost, melancholy dream that teeters on that edge of darkness. Cold lines of division creep from the corners and the out-of-focus art prints on the walls of the house and the atmosphere feels thick and cavelike. In a video a mother smiles, looking tentative and oddly more real than she’s seemed in a long time. She cries alone or feigns sleep in her bedroom as the twins move through an idyllic outdoor world. They cross a peat bog with rolling, springing steps. They descend into a shadowed mausoleum in an overgrown cemetery, a bed of bones crunching underfoot. Like boys anywhere they’re enamored of the slighter cruelties of nature. They have private ceremonies and rules. They watch out for each other which is why they must take steps against this… person.
The boys already know the answer to the question they’re asking. It’s also the wrong question and they know that too.
They still gather tools for an interrogation. – [DVD]
DVD Release Date: 12/15/15