Goodnight Mommy

It's been a while since I got to review a theatrical release that a friend of mine participated in. In this case, the friend in question is Susanne Wuest, who stars in this brutal Austrian chiller. In fact, my short film 20 Matches was written specifically for her, but alas, she was always too busy to return to Los Angeles to make it (the script was on the back burner for years until I finally decided to shoot the film with a local actress; Susanne gave me her blessing). So I'm thrilled that she not only gets to star in a feature that sees US distribution, but that's also quite good – although absolutely excruciating to sit through.

Goodnight Mommy is a chamber piece with three central characters: twin boys (Elias and Lukas Schwartz, playing brothers named "Elias" and "Lukas") and their mother (Susanne; you'll forgive me if I can't refer to her by her surname). Set mostly at their chic house in the Austrian countryside, the plot revolves around the mother's return from plastic surgery, her face bruised and bandaged, and the brothers' suspicion that this cold, strange woman may not actually be their mother.

To reveal anything else about the story would be a disservice to the film, but it does need to be stated that the third act includes graphic scenes of torture that will make you squirm. We're talking Audition-level stuff. (My wife had to leave the theatre at one point.) Seeing a dear friend suffer such indignities was hard for me, as you can imagine, yet in a way it made it easier to remember that this is just a movie.

Regardless of my bias, Susanne does a great job in an intense, highly emotional role, and the Schwartz brothers are perfectly creepy in their doll-eyed indifference to the horrors that unspool. First-time feature directors Fiala and Franz not only know how to ratchet up the ick factor, they also have a strong visual sense: many shots and scenes are quite arresting.

Goodnight Mommy is a sadistic film, and if you are even remotely squeamish then you should stay far, far away. But if you can endure a bit of on-screen cruelty and some nightmarish imagery, it's worth your while.