Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: GOODNIGHT MOMMY (original title Ich Seh, Ich Seh)

A widescreen frame within a frame of a vintage clip of a von Trapp like family singing Brahms Cradle Song in angelic harmony. The mother directs them and while she might only be concentrating on their performance her face is cold with concern.

Two young boys, twins by the looks, gambol about in a rustic setting, running through corn fields or exploring forests. Two moments cool the joy down, one at a cave entrance and the other on a lake. They amble back to their designer house in a field and wait around the house.

An SUV drives up. Their mother is back. We don't get a maternal embrace. The boys have to find her by following a scraping sound at the other end of the  house. The mother is in her room, opening and closing blinds. She is back from surgery. Her face is bound in a mask of surgical dressings. She greets the boys sternly, chiding them for their dirty appearance and orders them to clean up and dress properly.

At this point  we are given what I think is the first token in a slow revelation. I won't spoil this but will note that it is quite clear if unstated. I believe this is deliberate. We are to follow this film with the notion in mind, wondering if we're right and when, if we're right, the big reveal will come and with what impact. It will be just one more fuse of tension.

Another is how the boys begin to doubt that she is their mother or a kind of reversed changeling. The evidence mounts and the boys must take action. They do. But it's not so simple.

There are fevered dreams, real and imagined atrocities, extraordinary events but mostly there is a tension that stands above the others in the tug of war between a dreamy fairytale logic and a cold European realism. Mostly, this plays fair (the head-rattling scene in the woods) by being certified either way but much is left vague. Were these boys really left to themselves while their mother was in hospital? Are we just seeing what felt like the case? The original German title is Ich seh. Ich Seh or "I see. I see." We know it in English as "I spy with my little eye."

If we keep up with this film we are rewarded with some definite statements in answer to our questions and then take delivery of a final question and here, if we know our classic weird tale tv history, we are sent, like the strange creatures Billy Mumy conjures in his Twilight Zone episode ,  to the cornfield.

If we are easily distracted we might dismiss Goodnight Mommy as yet another EuroHorror in the mold of a Funny Games crossed with a Martyrs. The traits are there and if that's all there is to it, you could go for your life flinging mud. But that its delivery of its guessing game is done with so much else should seize all of those charges before they make it out of your breath.

Here's my real bone to pick, though. This film was given a generous publicity tease with a trailer that was reputed to be the scariest ever. It wasn't. It looked tense and weird but most of its audience have seen scarier. Regardless, the process was aborted locally by the film's cinema-bypassing appearance on one of the video on demand services (Stan, in this case). As I had already paid for the ticket, as it were, I put it on one night and then showed it to friends as I needed a second viewing. What I didn't have was a cinema screening. I wasn't discouraged from interruption or wandering attention. I wasn't its captive. If I had been then once would have been enough. It would have filled my consciousness and once would have been enough.

There's a smile in the credits with the words: Shot in glorious 35 mm. I know it still would have been projected digitally (no complaints about that but it does dampen the claim). But even that would have had the tang of the cinema as home rather than the reverse.

Just sayin'.

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