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‘Goodnight Mommy’ Serves Up Intimate Horror

Cover image for podcast episode

This week's Cinema Junkie podcast looks to the new horror film "Goodnight Mommy" that hails from Austria.

Show transcript

Welcome back to the KPBS Cinema Junkie podcast, I’m Beth Accomando. This morning I reviewed the new doc Drunk Stoned Brilliant Dead about National Lampoon and that’s an entertaining film about a group of brilliant comic minds that came together in the 70s and mounted a scathing satiric assault on American culture and morays. Much of today’s comedy seems to cower under the weight of political correctness and looks tame compared to the best and most daring of National Lampoon during its heyday.

But today’s podcast review, because it is October and the month of my beloved Halloween, will be of a new horror film that barely made it to San Diego. It’s Goodnight Mommy from Austria.

The film opens with a choir of happy children singing around a maternal figure.

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The premise presented is simple. Two young boys arrive at a new home with their mom.

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Things seem normal enough as they entertain themselves with simple games as they mom recovers from facial surgery. It is not immediately clear what happened but it seems she is recovering from an accident and her face is completely bandaged up. But as they play the post it game where you place a post it on your forehead with the name of a person or thing that you have to determine through a series of questions, the boys become suspicious that maybe their mom isn’t their mom. They put her name on the post it and she can’t guess it’s her even when they provide clues about what she likes and who her kids are.

The boys decide to launch an investigation, planting a baby monitor

The film plays out in bright sunlight, in a lovely rich home and against some beautiful scenery, yet the soundscape of the film suggests something more ominous.

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Yet there are odd inexplicable moments like a nighttime visitation to the woods by the mother and a cave filled with what seems to be human bones. Plus as we observe more details in the house there are foreboding things like a large framed portrait of a woman who is completely out of focus and missing pictures from the family album.

Through careful detail and slow, assured ratcheting up of tension, Goodnight Mommy builds a creepy thriller about a terrifying fear – what if the people you love are not what they seem. This fueled Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders from Mars. It’s the notion of what if you believe someone is not who they appear to be and what if nobody believes your suspicions?

Filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz deliver a classy horror film. The pay off at the end is not quite as satisfying as I was hoping for but it holds up for the most part and does make for a chilling moment or two. This would also pair up well with Read My Lips or Sleep Tight, another pair of foreign thrillers that rely on the intimacy between the characters as a major part of the horror and discomfort of the story.

Goodnight mommy opens Friday at Reading’s new luxury cinema The Angelika Center on Carmel Mt road. You can also find Reading’s Hitchcoktopber at the Angelika Center on Oct 15 with Dial M For Murder

Today thru Sunday Charade plays at the Cinema Under the Stars and I just want to remind people how cozy and intimate this outdoor venue is no matter what the weather’s like. They have a cover if it rains, heaters if its cold and zero gravity lounge chairs for the most comfortable and relaxed seating… although don’t come sleepy or you might just doze off. The screen is sharp and bright and the sound great. SO if you have never been make a point of checking it out.

One of my other favorite alternative venues is the Digital Gym Cinema on El Cajon Blvd. Opening this Friday is France’s The Partisan featuring the brilliant Vincent Cassel. Cassel plays a charismatic leader named Gregori who teaches children how to raise livestock, grow vegetables, work as a community – and how to kill. I was unable to preview this film but it’s a Sundance award-winner and I will see anything with Cassel in it.

On Oct. 11 Alien plays at Arclight La Jolla as part of its Fright Nights film series, most of which are not playing at Arclight in San Diego but rather in LA.

One film that’s still playing that I need to steer you clear of is Eli Roth’s Green Inferno, his tribute, rip off homage whatever you want to call it to Cannibal Holocaust. Rot came out of the gate strong with films like Cabin Fever and Hostel and then became a parody of himself. Yet he has a devout following of fans and horror sites seemed afraid to criticize his films so disliking his films feels like saying the emperor ha no clothes but people he really is naked! Green Inferno’s worst sin is that it’s boring and the gore seems tame compared to the now 35 year old Cannibal Holocaust.

Not to end on a low note, let me remind you to check for this week’s horror themed Friday podcast tomorrow. On it I will introduce you to Mr. Horror Musical Jesse Merlin who has played Dr. Hill in Re-Animator the musical, starred as the Father Merrin alter ego in a rock opera version of the Exorcist and played Hannibal Lector in Silence the musical.

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Merlin will take us on a tour of the amazing, disturbing, and macabre Surgeon’s Hall museum in Edinburgh.

Thanks for listening and till our next film fix I’m Beth Accomando, your resident cinema junkie. Please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and give us a rating. The podcast has only been running a few months and we need your help to get the word out.

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Cinema Junkie

Satisfy your celluloid addiction with the Cinema Junkie podcast, where you can mainline film 24/7. This film and entertainment series is run by KPBS Film Critic Beth Accomando. So if you need a film fix, want to hear what filmmakers have to say about their work, or just want to know what's worth seeing this weekend, then you've come to the right place