Tagged Proxy

Goodnight Mommy & the Existential Dread of Identity


Ich seh, Ich seh
(English title: Goodnight Mommy). 2015. Written & Directed by Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz.
Starring Susanne Wuest, Elias Schwarz, and Lukas Schwarz. Ulrich Seidl Film Produktion GmbH. Rated R. 99 minutes.
Drama/Fantasy/Horror

★★★★★
ICHSEHICHSEH Plakat A0_Mutter.inddThis is a film I’ve anticipated ever since first hearing the premise. Almost had sort of a fairytale-like feel to it. Finally getting a lucky chance, I was able to experience this dark and dreamy feature film. Goodnight Mommy, a superb Austrian film, indeed has atmosphere like that of a fairytale story. Within a horror there is a deep family drama – two boys against their mother, or whoever might have taken her place. Surprising me at nearly every turn, Goodnight Mommy has the ability to shock, but the script is wonderfully complex and the characters just as strong.
While I say that it can shock, I don’t mean that it’s an “arthouse shocker” as it is described on the poster. I think that’s a bit of a misleading label. There’s nothing arthouse about this one. That being said, there are plenty of surrealist moments present throughout, as well as a ton of horror imagery. But I think by calling it arthouse that not only misleads audiences, it also misrepresents this film overall. There is both psychology and horror at play in Goodnight Mommy, and it just so happens there is plenty of atmosphere and style in heaping portions, which helps everything else along quite nicely.

The movie starts as two twins, Elias and Lukas (played by twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz), are about to see their mother home for the first time since her cosmetic surgery. Out from the darkness of her room comes their mother (Susanne Wuest) bandaged beyond recognition, bits of her swollen face showing puffy through the wraps here and there. However, she doesn’t seem to them to be the same mother she always was, and there is something very much Other about whoever this woman might be.
As we twist and turn through the dreamy world of directors/writers Severian Fiala and Veronika Franz, the twin brothers plunge into a world this mother – or Other – and the darkness surrounds them all, leading to a shocking and most horrifying conclusion.

The two male siblings are like inseparable twins out of folklore tales. Introduced into their world is a mother whose face is unrecognizable – at least in the beginning – which begins the film’s exploration of identity, attachment, trust, and truth. Right away the family plays a game – everyone takes turns putting a sticky note on their forehead & trying to guess who they are – which automatically seems to set the two boys in stark opposition with their mother. As if she isn’t even their mother at all, but an impostor. I thought the scene was surprisingly tense for such an early juncture.
Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 4.12.57 PMThere’s an excellent tone from the start, as we’re thrown into a family dynamic which was obviously a little flawed to begin with. However, even before the boys somewhat confirm any supspicions there’s a feeling that something is out of place. Everything feels a bit strange. Helps cultivate a nice mood of dread.
I love when a film can throw me off and subvert my expectations. Around every corner of each frame, it feels as if there lurks the unimaginable. We move along in a feverish dream state, just as the boys seem to; caught between sleep and reality. The boys, outside and free, feel in the land of the living. Their mother looks to be stuck in a nightmare, locked in her room and gazing at her new self in the mirror.
The juxtaposition of the darkness versus the light in Goodnight Mommy is astounding and works perfectly. In the world of those shadows, the boys’ bandaged and Other-ish mother is Queen. Outside in the fresh air and the light, the boys are happy and safe. Inside with their mother and the darkness, the air is threatening.

Show us your birthmark
Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 4.18.22 PMThen comes a beautifully twisted scene in the form of an actual dream. Highly creepy. It involves the mother in the woods; don’t want to say much more, you must see it for yourself. There are several macabre and wonderful dream sequences, spooky bits. What I enjoy so much is that at times it’s tough to initially distinguish between the genuine dreams and the dream-like atmosphere of the film’s reality.
To say any more about the film’s plot would be to do it/anyone reading a disservice. I’d not expected all that came out of Goodnight Mommy, when so much intense and wild stuff did I found not knowing much of anything heading in made the experience much richer. There’s a lot happening here and it isn’t simply a bit of shocking horror, there’s real substance. Above all else, Goodnight Mommy has the earmarks of pure existential horror. What starts as a worry their mother has changed because of her cosmetic surgery becomes, for her sons, an existentialist struggle when they feel under threat.

Where is our mother?

The final 30 minutes are certainly disturbing, intense, and downright horrific at times. From a dream-like state we are brought abruptly, raw into a bright and realistic world now where the boys are King, instead of the shadows where they near cowered earlier. I thought that’s one of the biggest strengths of the film. It reminds a bit of Proxy, which in turn reminded me of Psycho, in terms of how the story’s structure and focus almost seems to realign itself over the course of the film. With Goodnight Mommy, we start in one perspective, but by the last half hour we’re ready to switch over to the other side. By the film’s finish, this is a truly effective method which the directors used and I think it ultimately paid off.
Some might believe the end twist is foreseeable. Honestly, I never once saw it coming. Masterful storytelling. While it’s a similar ending to other films we’ve seen, the end is justified by its means. You watch and get sucked into everything that’s going on, then the climax crashes down on top of you. The journey is what it’s all about – the end simply hammers home the psychological reality of all the horror happening surrounding the boys and their mother.
Screen Shot 2015-08-17 at 4.57.46 PMActing is fantastic, from the boys, as well as the mother.
Especially in the first half of the movie, I thought both Elias Schwarz and Lukas Schwarz did a wonderful job as the confused and fearful twins. They really did great work here, as you can feel the bond between them while also seeing how lost in a confused haze they’re becoming, not sure if their mother came home or if this person really is some Other. This is the only film these two kids have ever done, as far as I know, so that’s something else pretty amazing. I’ve seen reviews say their performances were flat, however, I don’t see it that way. Certainly once the ending hits you, the retrospective look at their characters provides enough to understand why the boys are the way they are. So give it time, they’ll grow on you and get you by the finale.
Even more so, Susanne Wuest is absolutely unbelievable in Goodnight Mommy. Her role, as well as those of the boys, twists and turns. At times, mostly at first, you’re never sure where her character will go. By the middle and a little further, you’re pretty sure; even if you’re not, the results are terrifying. She did a lot of excellent stuff while her face was bandaged, but definitely once they’re off she pulls out an emotional, intense performance to match the plot’s own intensity tenfold.

Hands down, a 5 star drama-horror with some surreal elements.
I’d waited so long to finally see this and it was well worth the wait. Cannot wait until this gets a wider release, as well as a nice Blu ray. I’ll be snatching that up as quick as humanly possible. When I get the chance to see this again, it would be great to examine it more at length, see it a couple times. It’s that great a film. Again, some say the ending is like “all the others”, and in a way it is, but the entire thing is so refreshingly inventive and interesting that it makes the entire journey worth it. An incredible ride, all on “glorious 35mm” as it says in the end of the credits. See this once you can and enjoy every last mortifying second.

Zack Parker’s PROXY: Twisting Tales of Extraordinary Madness

Proxy. 2014.  Dir. Zack Parker.
Starring Kristina Klebe, Joe Swanberg, Alexa Havins, and Alexia Rasmussen. IFC Midnight. Unrated. 120 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★★★
proxy-poster-rhinos-horror
Previously, I’ve seen Zack Parker’s work with his earlier film Scalene, which I actually really enjoyed. Perhaps enjoy is not the best verb to describe the experience of that film, but either way it was effective, and I knew I wanted to see more from Parker. While filmed in 2013, this didn’t hit Canada until 2014. This is by far one of the best movies I saw last year. There is no doubt. Parker provides not only several gruesome moments to make this partly a horror film, he does an excellent job of intertwining several stories into one overall plot and allowing it to flow together coherently. A lesser filmmaker might get lost trying to wrap a few stories into one thrilling plot, Parker does so with a lot of grace, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to bring up its similarities to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

Proxy starts off with Esther Woodhouse (Alexia Rasmussen) walking home after a check-up appointment with her doctor, as she’s very far along in her pregnancy. On the way, Esther is knocked out by someone in a red hooded sweatshirt, and terribly assaulted; the attacker smashes her belly in over and over with a brick. The baby is pronounced dead, but Esther survives. Afterwards, having no real family or friends, Esther goes to support groups where she ends up becoming friends with a woman named Melanie Michaels (Alexa Havins), who says her husband and little boy were killed by a drunk driver. However, Esther sees Melanie in a department store later yelling that her son has been kidnapped, looking for help. After Melanie leaves the store, though, Esther sees her bringing out the very alive boy to be “found”. From here, things begin to spin out of control, as Melanie is exposed, and Esther herself is not everything she truly seems.
Soon, one vicious event begins a domino effect that ultimately affects the lives of everyone involved with both Esther and Melanie.
Zack-Parker_web3To say anything else about the plot of this film would be to ruin the movie for anyone who has yet to see it. While I’ve said a bit, the best comes once things really kick into gear after Esther sees Melanie with her child. I honestly had no idea where Proxy would end. This is one of the few films to really throw me for a loop. This is great because the plot structure really reminds me a lot of Psycho. Whereas the Hitchcock classic begins focused on Marion Crane and then grimly switches gears when Norman Bates is introduced into the mix, Proxy also begins with a character who sort of walks us cinematically into the real plot of the film when Esther finds out her friend Melanie is a con-artist, and then everything unfolds. It’s a beautiful way to structure things.
Zack-Parker_web5I know there are similarities to other films, but I really believe Parker fixed in on some great Hitchcock-style techniques, specifically those in Psycho. For instance, the score is really gorgeous and dark and sneaky. There are moments where tension ratchets up because Parker has such an enormous, sweeping score that makes those emotional and tense moments come across even more effectively. Just as Hitchcock had those strings in the right places for Psycho, as does Parker here with his film. I think, these days, suspense and tension are often left by the wayside in the hands of certain directors. Parker is not one of those. He keeps things very unsettling and you’re never sure of the ground you’re treading on. This film keeps coming and coming until there’s nothing left to your nerves.
Zack-Parker_web2I’ve always liked Joe Swanberg, and while there are some great performances by both Anika Barön, as well as Alexa Havins, I think he really does some of the best work going on in Proxy. The story is centered on the women of the film, however, Swanberg is one of the characters most affected by everything which happens in the plot. Without ruining too much, you really see the pain in this character come through in Swanberg. He’s great at playing normal people. That probably has to do with the fact he directs his own stuff, and acts in a lot, almost constantly. He does a lot of films. And most are highly independent, so they usually go for a quite realistic approach. I think this makes Swanberg a great fit for the role. His performance is nice and subdued. The overall plot made me feel bad for his character, but his abilities as an actor make things all the more sympathetic. Really great stuff.
Alexa Havins has to be mentioned, as well. It’s impossible not to comment on her great acting. The character she plays, Melanie, is absolutely warped – beyond belief. I think the character could have easily come off much to theatrical and overblown. Havins plays this great. There are times she really comes across as a scary monster; I wouldn’t doubt there are people out there so consumed with a need for attention to the point they would do the most awful things imaginable. It’s an effective performance, and the character’s story really draws you in with Havins playing it so appropriately.
proxy_01_largeThis is one of the best films from last year, but it’s also one of the better  movies I’ve seen in the last decade. Especially films in the horror genre. There are plenty of wild moments, in terms of blood and otherwise, however, this film really works on a horror level like Hitchcock’s Psycho. Parker does throw in a more than acceptable amount of blood and gore. Mainly what he does is make things into a psychological nightmare. While we begin the film feeling as if certain characters are the worst of the ensemble, later events come to change those opinions, and it’s just a really interesting character piece wrapped up in horror & thriller elements. This is flawless. A great modern horror masterpiece, and I continue to wait on more great work by Zack Parker.