Goodnight Expectations, Goodnight Click-Bait, GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2014)

goodnight mommy poster

“The Scariest Movie Trailer of All-Time” hails MTV and Uproxx! “People are Freaking Out About this Horror Movie Trailer” exclaims Buzzfeed!

Those are real headlines.

And I’m of two minds about them.

For one: I’m glad that whatever advertising firm/distributor was able to get Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s Goodnight Mommy this kind of press coverage.

In an age where so many movies deserving of theatrical runs end up dumped on VOD, then need a second flush to move them down the pipes to Netflix: I’m glad that someone found a way to sell this beautiful, idiosyncratic movie.

But I also saw those headlines back in April and deliberately avoided clicking on the links.

Mostly because I’m so entrenched in this horror thing, that if a film is getting any kind of positive word-of-mouth I know that I’m going to end up seeing it. But also because I don’t respond well to click-bait. I try to rise above, I don’t want to give into the cognitive SEO hackers who write that crap.

Well, those noble reasons and the cold hard facts that trailers have a way of giving up too much of the goods.

Tonight I saw Goodnight Mommy along with Superghost author and superfriend Scott Cole. Coming out of the theater, he was way more introspective than I was.

“It’s just not what I was expecting, the trailer sold me something else,” Scott said (I’m paraphrasing).

For the record,  I was ranting and raving about how much I loved the movie. And that much must be stressed upfront. Recently I’ve been inundated with a lot of films that were falling in the “like not love” camp, only the upper echelons of that crop of unloved warranting mention on the blog.

But DAMN does it feel good to love a movie. And, even though the romance hasn’t had a chance to cool yet, I gotta say that I do love Goodnight Mommy.

But back to Scott’s reaction to the flick.

I pressed him on it, wanting to know why he didn’t like it. But he pushed back, clarifying his point, articulating that he definitely enjoyed the film, he just felt a little betrayed by the trailer. That trailer that got all those headlines.

So what did I do upon returning home? You can bet that I fired up that trailer I’d been avoiding.

And after watching it: I see what Scott means.

The trailer for Goodnight Mommy is incredibly misleading. Like, nearly class-action-suit level misleading, because for a moment it cuts three unrelated shots together to make them seem like they’re one contiguous scene in order to better “sell” the narrative of the trailer.

As shady as it is to reconstruct a non-existent scene in a trailer, I also think that it’s a kind of brilliant marketing move. Most bad trailers show you all a film’s “money shots” (pardon, but if there’s a better term for this phenomena I’m unfamiliar). Instead of doing that, Goodnight Mommy’s trailer builds an alternate first act for the film.

Sure, it’s a punchier alternative first act that completely misrepresents the Austrian film’s arthouse leanings (leanings that I’m TOTALLY into), but if it gets asses in seats…

So, if you haven’t already: maybe don’t watch that trailer. If you have a theater that’s playing Goodnight Mommy near you (it made it to Philly, can you believe it?): go see it. If not, I’m sure it’ll have a VOD run soon. The trailer is an interesting curio, but take my word for it and go in to the movie cold.

And, no, I don’t want to do a proper “review” of Goodnight Mommy. Because that would require synopsizing. Synopsizing that might hurt your enjoyment of the movie. But what I will share is comparing Goodnight Mommy to the work of Jack Ketchum and Miike’s Audition. From those reference points I’m guessing that you can put together that this film is rather brutal. And a specific kind of high-minded brutality, at that.

If that doesn’t sell you, to wrap up, there’s the pithy tagline I thought of coming out of the theater:

“It’s a Hardy Boys Adventure as filmed by Michael Haneke!”

Now, if you have seen the movie, feel free to keep reading for one additional thought about the internet’s reception of the film. There are no spoilers, per se, but if you read any further you won’t be going in to the movie tabula rasa.

…one more thing, and this has slightly more to do with the content of this film itself.

While I was on the Google warpath of looking up the ridiculous headlines about the film’s trailer, I couldn’t help but see another trend among the articles. There is a small-but-vocal minority of reviewers slamming the film’s twist ending, labeling it as “predictable.” I won’t reveal the ending here, but in most cases I’d argue that even knowing a film has “a twist” itself constitutes a spoiler. With Goodnight Mommy not so much.

That’s because everything about Goodnight Mommy is smart and deliberate and exceedingly well-made. It’s a quiet film, one where most of the dialogue is presented as the shorthand mumbling of two prepubescent brothers. For much of its runtime it’s about as close to silent film as modern movies can get.

And like a silent film, Goodnight Mommy demands your attention, your taking in of subtle details. It does very little hand-holding for much of its narrative, which is what leads me to the conclusion that co-writer/directors Franz and Fiala don’t want the ending to be a twist. They WANT you to guess it beforehand, or–if not want–are fine with you guessing.

In fact, I think they tip their cards pretty early in the film (maybe by the 20 minute mark, in my estimation) and offer scant red herrings to try and elude audience prefiguring. The twist is less a twist, more a series of treats for the attentive.

This isn’t me being some douchebag petting his beard and bragging that “I guessed the ending!” I rarely get this kind of stuff right. I’m a total sucker when watching movies, I get blindsided by simple twists all the time. That said: I completely foresaw where Goodnight Mommy ends up going and it felt like I was intended to.

It’s kind of a case of parallax view: if you recognize where it’s going early on in the film, Goodnight Mommy is recontextualized as a tragedy from its earliest scenes. And that “educated guessing” does nothing to harm one’s enjoyment of the movie. If anything it enhances that enjoyment, because you get to sit there with the thought “I’m pretty sure I know where this is going, but I don’t want to be right” dancing around in your head, not knowing for sure that you’re right until the final reel.

I can dig on that.


If you like this rambling about a movie, than you’ll probably love to read me and author Orrin Grey ramble about a century’s worth of our favorite movie monsters over at Cemetery Dance Online. It’s the fourth installment of my monthly column, Paper Cuts, and I’m just so freakin’ glad that they haven’t asked me to leave yet.

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