Don't Watch The Amazon Remake of Goodnight Mommy - Watch The Original

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Don't Watch The Amazon Remake of Goodnight Mommy - Watch The Original

Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion GmbH

Welcome back, little ghoulies, to another installment of Cracked's BOO-nited Nations! How’d you sleep last night after watching Noroi: The Curse? Not well? Too bad, this spooky doesn’t have any spooky brakes and is not spooky-FRA-guideline compliant! Our whirlwind global va-SLAY-tion today takes us from Asia to (insert Cryptkeeper laugh here) Europe!

Specifically, we’re going to Austria, an incredibly gorgeous country that is hilariously dependent on Germany for much of its cultural identity. “Austria,” in fact, is the Anglicized version of what the country calls itself, which is Österreich, which means “Eastern Kingdom,” as in the kingdom that’s east of Germany. That’s what they call themselves. That would be like if we started calling Canada “Upper United States (Three Stars)” and they legally changed their name to that. 

I kid! I kid because (cue Mummy groan) I love! In high school I was an exchange student in Germany one year, and I took several trips to Salzburg while there. It’s a stunning, gorgeous country. I wanted to give Austria a little shout-out, because as far as European horror goes there’s a good chance you’re at least passingly familiar with the New French Extremity Movement and England’s famous The Hills Have Eyes incest monster-based horror scene (a.k.a. coverage of the royals).

But today, we’re talking about Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s 2014 slowburn horror opus Goodnight Mommy, known in Austria and Germany as Ich Seh Ich Seh (German for “I See I See”). They remade it recently for Amazon Prime with Naomi Watts, but that version is (Wolfman howl) butt! The original Goodnight Mommy is kind of streaming all over place, namely Roku and Pluto TV at the moment.

So What Is This Movie About?

Lukas and Elias are twin Austrian boys, all tow-headed and horrid ruddy little cheeks. They’re playing tag in a cornfield while wearing nasty little papier-mâché masks; real freak shit. Being from Indiana, I’ve done my fair share of chasing my friends through cornfields while wearing a creepy mask, but there’s something particularly unwholesome about seeing a child doing it. After having a lovely summer’s day jumping around on a bog, swimming, walking into a pitch-black drainage tunnel which represents the abyssal chasm of horror they’re soon going to be pitched into, and having a burping contest, they return home to their mother. 

They live with their mother in a home deep in the woods, which is certainly not a red flag of any kind. Their mother’s face is obscured by heavy medical bandages, and it’s unclear as to what exactly happened. We learn from a game they play together that their mother is some manner of television actress or personality, so judging by that and her obsession with her own reflection, it’s possible her surgery was some sort of cosmetic procedure. There is also mention of some sort of “accident” that occured at some point in the past: was her surgery necessary due to injuries sustained from that? Was she having an experimental procedure to rearrange her teeth in descending order by size, allowing her to chew using a peristaltic motion? It’s unclear, but not so unclear that we can’t rule out that last one (which I completely made up). 

Things become even more strange when the boys’ mother sets out a new set of rules for the home: all blinds must be kept shut during the day, total silence must be retained in the house, and absolutely no visitors are allowed to come inside. Elias and Lukas, being naughty little boys, stay up past their bedtime and discuss how different their mother seems after her surgery. You’d be forgiven for being surprised that a German-adjacent mother wasn’t always stern, distant, and cold. To comfort themselves, they play an old recording of her sweetly wishing them goodnight and singing them a lullaby. The boys begin to suspect that this bandaged-faced woman isn’t their mother at all, but some sort of impostor. 

You can probably surmise what happens. If not, man, you really chose a doozy for your first-ever horror movie. 

What Manner of Monster Is This?

The most knee-jerk interpretation of the film is that it deals with the concept of the doppelgänger, and one need only look at that umlaut to know this particular phenomenon has its origin in the German-speaking world. We’re all probably familiar with the concept of the doppelgänger – an identical, yet separate, copy of someone. The word doppelgänger first started appearing in the late 18th century, meaning that the United States is technically older than doppelgängers and therefore might be partially to blame for their existence. Traditionally, seeing one’s doppelgänger isn’t just a passing moment of “huh, weird” or, if you’re a roguishly handsome Internet comedy writer, extreme eroticism: it’s usually a mark of impending disaster, a harbinger of doom. It is perhaps unsurprising that the concept of having a dark twin strikes such a chord in the German-speaking world – a gorgeous place full of beautiful, kind, compassionate people which, within living memory, was near-globally synonymous with ontological evil. 

Due to the film’s recurring image of a cornfield, it’s probably also worth mentioning the Roggenmuhme (“Rye Mommy”), a German legend mentioned by the Brothers Grimm. It’s one of Germany’s many field spirits. This one is a creature which hunts down children who wander into her cornfield, squeezing them to death in a deadly hug or, in some stories, forcing them to suckle molten iron from her fright bosoms. I honestly don’t know how widespread the Roggenmuhme is in Germany, much less Austria, but I can tell you as a little German lad growing up in Indiana they were something I was very, very concerned with. 

But I think that Goodnight Mommy intentionally baits and refutes such pat explanations. (So why did I write that whole last paragraph? Probably because I like to share Spooky Facts.) While there are moments in the film that seem supernatural, we learn that the twins are prone to having waking nightmares and flights of fancy: it’s remains ambiguous how much of the inexplicable things we’re being shown are “real” and how much is simply the twins trying to process a sudden change in their mother’s behavior. It’s more likely that we’re seeing the onset of a Capgras delusion: a pernicious belief that someone you love has been secretly replaced. The most frightening explanation, however, is possibly the most pedestrian: the film is documenting two children struggling to understand, for the first time, how a life-changing event can permanently alter a person. 

But Is It Scary?

Goodnight Mommy is indeed scary, but “scary” is perhaps too broad of a term. While Noroi: The Curse evokes a primal terror, Goodnight Mommy elicits in viewers something more akin to a cold, deep unease. It’s gorgeously shot, with most scenes being rendered in relatively few shots, each of them largely static. The film treats its subject matter with a kind of sterile distance. As the film becomes ever more depraved in its third act, this arm’s-length approach to horror and brutality gives the viewer a twinge of voyeuristic disgust. The sterility makes what we’re seeing all the more chilling. It strips away the filmic-ness, the artfulness, from what we’re seeing, laying bare the naked violence on display. It’s all very Michael Haneke in that regard: perhaps we, the viewers, are actually giant pieces of human garbage for enjoying these displays of depravity? 

The stark cinematography of the film is also great. The early scenes of the twins playing in nature are full of jagged, organic lines: the graceful curves of a lakeshore, the subtle crookedness of a tree. But nearly every shot inside the house, the domain of the unheimlich Mother, contains a series of unnaturally straight lines within its framing. Doorframes, angular furniture, and parallel blinds: the house operates with a brutal, geometric rigidity that calls to mind the work of Metropolis director Fritz Lang, who was also Austrian. One of my favorite motifs of the film is the association of the mother’s room with a wire mannequin bust she has near the door. It calls to mind – intentionally, I’m pretty sure – Harlow’s wire mother. That was an experiment done by psychologist Harry Harlow where he made two different “mothers” for baby monkeys. One mother was wrapped in soft cloth, the other in harsh wire. The wire mother could also feed the little monklets, while the comforting cloth mother could not. Harlow wanted to know if baby monkeys would prefer a comforting, “loving” mother which could not meet their needs over a cold, frightening mother who could not. 

But finally, perhaps the most frightening aspect of Goodnight Mommy is its ambiguity. Ambiguity is inherently frightening: are we sure that guy that points at my bedroom window from the street every night at 4:44AM isn’t wearing a mask? Are we absolutely certain the McRib isn’t made from sweet, supple pandameat? Lots of animals have ribs, after all! And the ambiguity of Goodnight Mommy comes from it being a monster flick with no clear monster. There’s nary a fang-mawed Dracula supping on blood to be found: there is, instead, a push and pull. We initially believe the twins’ accusations that their mother-figure is an impostor. Later, as we escape the folie à deux the twins weave, as we get out of the gravitational pull of their paranoia and dark whimsy, we begin to doubt. We begin to doubt that this Mother is a monster. As we see her interacting with the sane world outside the twins’ bedroom, we begin to think that perhaps she’s just a woman struggling – and perhaps failing – to return to some semblance of normalcy in a life that has been permanently mutilated by trauma. And perhaps the maladjusted twins being incapable of understanding that people change (or refusing to accept that people change) are the real monsters?

The true horror of this film is the queasy realization of this German-language film is that it can actually be extremely difficult to tell who the monster is, particularly when the answer is “it might be you.” 

Nah, I’m just teasin’, the true horror is seeing the two little Teutonic lads snacking on a jar of sausages. Willy Wonka was justified in shoving Augustus Gloop into a series of mysterious tubes. Overall, I give Goodnight Mommy two out of two deadeyed little Austrian boys and ten out of ten Tums taken for anxiety-induced nausea. 

William Kuechenberg is a repped screenwriter, a Nicholl Top 50 Finalist, and an award-winning filmmaker. He’s currently looking to be a writer’s assistant, a showrunner’s assistant, or even to be staffed on a television show: tell your friends, and if you don’t have any friends, tell your enemies! You can also view his mind-diarrhea on Twitter.

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