Thursday, October 27, 2016

30 Days of Nightmares #27: GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2014)

The Story: After reconstructive surgery, a mother returns home to her two sons… but they don’t believe she’s really their mother.

Expectations: Something about the synopsis of this movie reminded me of an old folk tale called “The New Mother.”  It’s a cautionary tale about two kids who are so disobedient that one day they come home and their mother has been replaced by a disciplinarian replicant with a glass eye and a wooden tail.

Reaction: I recently ran across a quote by Clive Barker, in which he said that American horror stories are often rooted in a particular place and time, while European horror stories are more timeless and mythic.  This film definitely has the feel of a myth or a folk tale, with its dreamlike study of masks and duality.   And in a way, it seems like a conscious fusion of Eurohorror and American gothic.  In fact, within the first five minutes, I was convinced that this film's two biggest influences were the expressionistic EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1960) and the ghost story THE OTHER (1972).  If you’ve seen these two films, GOODNIGHT MOMMY will probably seem rather predictable.

In general, GOODNIGHT MOMMY works the way Hitchcock’s PSYCHO works, by manipulating audience sympathy.  Hitch loved the scene in PSYCHO where Norman Bates sinks Marion Crane’s car (with Marion’s dead body in the trunk) into the swamp. For a moment, it seems like the car isn’t going to sink all the way.  Norman looks nervous and Hitch knew that audiences would be equally nervous--because even though we don’t want to root for a serial killer, we instinctively don’t want Norman to get caught.  We've spent half of the movie identifying with him.  And it’s the same thing here.  We sympathize with the poor kids who are distressed by the appearance of their “new mother.”  But, as in PSYCHO, things are not what they seem.

This is a slow-burn, painfully somber horror movie that won’t appeal to everyone.  But it’s also shocking and surprisingly poetic at times.  Worth a look if you're after something different.

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: Cockroaches can live anywhere.

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