Goodnight, Mommy Leaves Us in The Dark
What’s in a trailer? If it’s a horror movie, it’s terror. It’s the exceptional fear of the narrative crammed into a span of two minutes. It evokes the primal need to experience the film, to tiptoe into the unknown and conquer your fears, all with a guarantee that you’ll pee your pants in the process. That’s exactly what the trailer for Goodnight, Mommy, a mysterious new Austrian horror film, accomplishes. The trailer lit up the internet like a house on fire last week, and with very good reason. It features a mummy-like bandaged mom, children in masks, a desolate setting, and most importantly, a giant roach going into a mouth, and a subsequent crunch. Aglow with midday light in milky, shadowed interiors, the trailer encapsulates the fear of something you once knew and loved turning into something foreign and terrifying right before your eyes. But does the movie behind this much-talked about trailer live up to its ominous expectations? Yes and no.We saw a rooftop pre-release screening at Industry City in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a very cool venue, and very much worth the trek for those in other parts of the city. Their rooftop screening series hosts an outdoor setting which oddly added to the experience, as did the giant and enthusiastic crowd that came out for the showing.
I’m not going to give too much away because I think people should see this movie without it being spoiled. It is first and foremost worth the experience. The ending left me slightly speechless, a great feat for a desensitized horror fanatic such as myself. That said, there are a couple of things that keep me from actually liking the movie, a shame considering the high potential.
The overarching issues is with the characterizations. They are skillfully built with so much care that when, ultimately, the onion layers of complexity suddenly stop peeling midway through, you’re left utterly confused. It all adds up to something we’ve all become too familiar with in this genre – the style overshadows the story. Because let’s face it, it’s easier to look scary than be scary. But as we all know, style over substance rarely wins the game. It’s funny this happens time and again in films. We’ve seen enough mistakes, especially in horror, to know that when something is earned it is so much more worth the cost of admission. Whether be it a violent, unexpected death or even the all-too-familiar final girl as she flees the woods having just slain the killer, there’s something satisfying and unquestionable about what we’ve all just went through. It leaves a mark. But a cat and mouse set up that is so meticulous and, so far, clever, devolves into plain old character stupidity and thoughtlessness, it’s a let down. When a character isn’t desperate enough to attempt to manipulate a captor, the intensity of the situation is immediately deflated. These people are mundanely diabolical, and they would have been clever enough. We are showed this, and yet in the end, betrayed.
In terms of style, the strongest point of this film, it has Michael Haneke written all over it. The quiet countryside setting, the familial terror, the cold yet cozy household setting gone ary. But where Hanke takes us on a journey of gut twisting dread, this film softly plods through charismatic details that don’t end up meaning much at all, and leave you just shrugging your shoulders when it’s all said and done (after you shake that horrific final moment, of course). Gorgeously shot, scary on the surface, but lacking the nerve to be great, Goodnight, Mommy is worth the ride, as long as you don’t mind the destination being sort of flat.