All I could do was stare, mouth wide open, as the credits rolled on “Goodnight Mommy.”
Now that’s how you do a twist ending: Pull the audience in and then sucker punch ‘em right in the gut, leaving them questioning everything they thought they knew and understood about the film.
Here I was thinking that the high point was going to when Mommy gnawed on that giant hissing cockroach.
This Austrian export is steeped in creepiness and a mounting sense of dread unlike anything I’ve seen since “The Babadook.” While not as devastating as “Babadook,” “Goodnight Mommy” has the same weight and pull that leaves you emotionally invested in the characters.
The film is about twins Elias and Lukas and their mother, who returns to the isolated family home after extensive plastic surgery that leaves her entire face covered in bandages. Still visibly in pain, the mother demands – often enforced with beatings – total silence from the boys, and that the house be left in near total darkness.
Suspicious at their mother’s sudden change to harsh, occasionally violent, parenting, the boys believe that the woman in their midst is an imposter. It’s a real disorder that in psychiatric circles is called Capgras syndrome, or the delusion of doubles. It is a relatively rare phenomenon.
According to folklore, if a child is thought to have been replaced by another person or a demon, battering and being physically aggressive toward the imposter might bring the “real” child back. One Swedish fairy tale recounts the story of a woman who believed her child was an imposter. In the story, she is advised to put her baby into a hot oven; when she does, her “true” child is returned.
It would seem the twins in “Goodnight Mommy” are well versed in the psychology of delusion of doubles, because they put their mommy through a gruesome gauntlet bordering on emotional and physical torture. While it’s hard to gauge what they were like before the bandaged woman appeared, they weren’t exactly playing with a full deck to begin with.
I haven’t seen twins this creepy since the murdered sisters in “The Shining.”
The boys collect hissing cockroaches. Yep … collect, keeping hundreds in a giant fish tank. They also tie their mother to the bed and super glue her mouth shut. When she continues to insist that she is, in fact, their mother, Lukas, the dominant and more demented brother, knocks her unconscious and places her downstairs before setting the house on fire.
I don’t want to actually spoil the ending of this one, but suffice it to say, I was stunned. Had it not been way past my bedtime, I would’ve watched it all over again – like with “Sixth Sense” – in order to find clues of what was to come.
“Goodnight Mommy” is the best kind of punch in the gut.