Sunday, December 6, 2015

Show and Tell: Goodnight Mommy

As a lifelong horror fan, I've always considered myself capable of handling dark subject matter.  I'll watch zombies tear out someone's throat and gnaw on their intestines.  Observing Cenobites pierce, vivisect, and generally obliterate the human form has almost become comfort food for me.  Sure, I find some subjects distasteful and I'll typically avoid them, but for the most part I think that I've become accustomed (some might say desensitized) to the harsh subject matter we often find in horror.

At least that's what I thought until last week, when I went to see the Austrian import Goodnight Mommy.  Having heard a lot of good buzz about the movie, I was excited to have the opportunity to see the movie in theaters since it had a pretty limited release.  Over the course of the movie, however, my enthusiasm had been taken out behind the house, beaten, and shot in the head.  I left the theater wondering what the fuck is wrong with Austria.  However, ever since watching Goodnight Mommy I've wondered if my distaste for the movie says more about me than it does about the quality of the film.

Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, the Goodnight Mommy centers on twin brothers Luke and Elias.  Their mother returns home from a surgical operation that has left her face heavily bandaged to the point of completely obscuring her features.  She acts strange, treating the brothers in a cold and distant manner that has them wondering whether or not this woman is actually their mother at all.

Now, I'm going to try to avoid too many heavy spoilers in the following discussion, but this may prove difficult as some of the twists played key roles in how I absorbed this movie.  What I do need to give away is that if your expectations of this movie are based on the trailer, I don't believe Goodnight Mommy will be the movie you thought you were going to see.  In my case, I was able to guess the crux of the movie's main plot twist fairly early on, and I think this may have been intentional if for no other reason than because I am usually the very last person to figure out a plot twist.

Another reason that I think the film intended to let me in on the twist early on is because my knowing what was coming actually heightened the tension.  I knew how the situation was going to play out, and this knowledge horrified me because I knew it would not end well.  Sure enough, my fears came true with a level of realism that was truly disturbing.  The last 20 minutes of this movie are very hard to watch, not because they are particularly gory, but because they are so unforgiving.

And this is where my existential crisis as a horror fan kicks in.  This is not a poorly made movie.  It depicts a very interesting portrayal of extreme consequences caused by the psychological damage of trauma.  That being said, this is not a movie that I would ever watch again, nor am I really all that glad I even saw it in the first place.

So what does that say about me as a horror fan?  I'll watch any number of slashers, where teenagers are hacked to bits in ways that often treats death like a punchline, and I won't bat an eye.  In Goodnight Mommy, there is only one death, and that death is depicted with gravity and horror in the true sense of the word.  But I just wanted it to end.

I've come to the conclusion that I enjoy horror in the same way that I enjoy a roller coaster.  I'm on board for whatever drops, loops, or twists you have in store for me, no matter how extreme, as long as at the end we taper off and roll back into the station.  With Goodnight Mommy, however, you go through the ride, but as you get to the end the track just ends and your car falls off into the abyss. Now, I know there are some people who are looking for that drop into the abyss, and I think they'll really enjoy this ride.  I'll just let those folks get in line, and I'll wait on the bench eating some cotton candy.

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