Tagged Surgery

The Knick – Season 1, Episode 4: “Where’s the Dignity?”

Cinemax’s The Knick
Season 1, Episode 4: “Where’s the Dignity?”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler

* For a review of the previous episode, “The Busy Flea” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “They Capture the Heat” – click here
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The Knick‘s fourth episode starts with Tom Cleary (Chris Sullivan) playing darts, betting, drinking. He ends up making a bullseye and the place roars. Then from the corner, Tom has a little lookout boy signal him to the door. What I love about this opening, as is the case at many points through each episode, is the music from Cliff Martinez. I mean, does it ever give this period piece series an extra edge, or what? Insanely catchy, intriguing, weird.
Here, the score leads into a scene where Cleary brings a bag of rats from the lookout boy down to a tiny ring, lined on every side by drunk, loud men. Inside the ring, the rats are dumped out and a man in the middle tries his best to stomp them. One of those basement gambling rings that’ll host any sort of event.

 


At the hospital, Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) presents ashes to a widow. It turns out the pig he cut up at the end of the last episode was for the ashes, as the body clearly went to making money.
In the operating theatre, Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland) scrubs in for surgery. Even while Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) says there’s no need. All the while, Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson) fumes at being told what to do by Edwards, who orates the surgery for everyone present. At the ready is Dr. Bertie Chickering (Michael Angarano), as well. But at one point Algernon refuses to tell Everett “whats next“. Worse, Everett says he has no time for “nigger games“. Finally, in steps Edwards to do the rest of the procedure and doesn’t miss a beat. He helps harden and clot the aneurysm with an electrical current, which prompts Gallinger to punch Edwards in the face; a dirty, cheap shot.

 


Inspector Speight (David Fierro) and Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance) head over to see Mrs. Hemming (Emily Bergl) concerning the typhoid outbreak. We see how frank and upfront Speight is, after refusing a handshake from the lady due to not knowing her “hygiene habits“. He further asks tough questions to the lady, wondering if there were any women “on the side” for her husband
We see Thack reciting lines for a crowd, an obvious flashback to a time before Abby (Jennifer Ferrin) lost her nose, and when Dr. Christiansen (Matt Frewer) was still alive. A Christmastime party at the hospital. Happy, carefree. Cut back to 1900, Abby sits ghastly in a chair with the skin on her arm grafted to her face, elbow bent back up over her head. Things have certainly changed. Tragic. And it seems their sad reunion does nothing to help John’s state of mind. As the two talk, Nurse Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson) listens on. She hears everything at the hospital, but just listens. Taking it all in.
Herman has a new hush-hush agreement with Cleary, taking the ambulance for obviously nefarious purposes. Afterwards, Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) comes to ask Cleary to give up his fooling around. Only Tom isn’t fooling around. He tells her what he knows – the abortions, all the girls. Now they’ve got an arrangement since he’s strong arming the nun. I don’t like what he’s doing, though, I don’t exactly feel he’s on the level. It isn’t Christ keeping him on the moral side of anything: he’s in it for money.
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Algernon meets his father Jesse (Leon Addison Brown) outside of the hospital. He is a proud man to have his own son, a strong African-American man a doctor at The Knick. They have a chat about the history of the building, the neighbourhood, bits about Captain August (Grainger Hines) and that crowd. When Dr. Thackery strolls out, Algernon makes a great quip about how good John is: “But I might be better,” he says to his father with a smirk across his face.
We get more of Bertie now, which I love. He’s a good character and Angarano plays him incredibly well. His father, Bertram Sr (Reg Rogers), seems out of the loop in his son’s life. He doesn’t approve of the circus that is The Knick. It’s interesting to watch their relationship play out, especially into Season 2. Great actors with a nice chemistry, as well.
Furthermore, we’re privy to Algernon and his family in a scene together in a scene. I’m excited to see more of his story; another solid part of why The Knick is well written, having Algernon tackle all the racism in 1900 being an educated black man in a fiery New York City. Even better, Algernon goes on to meet Hobart Showalter (Gary Simpson), future father-in-law of Cornelia. Hobart is a real greasy guy, a capitalist whose beady eyes are those of an absolute predator. But Algie gives him a nice saucy retort after listening about the “docile” natives of Ecuador. Nice scene to include here, which pits Algernon against the upper class racism of the early 20th century.

 


Down in Chinatown, Lucy finds Dr. Thackery laying in a haze of opium. Naked Chinese woman by his side. Naturally, she’s shocked and makes her way out quickly. Their relationship is headed somewhere. No doubt to a tragic end for one of them. Or both.
And so Cornelia is marrying Hobart’s son Phillip (Tom Lipinski). Everyone’s mingling at the party uptown. A few strange looks pass between Algernon and Cornelia, after talk – from Phillip – about them moving away. Is there more to the relationship between these two? Sure, they’re old friends; the Edwards’ have worked for the Robertsons years upon years. Only there’s something else there.
Algernon talks with a vacuum salesman about how one of his units might work with blood. So they tinker with it a little, and the doctor quickly buys it up. Should be fun to watch what he’s up to with this gadget. I assume perhaps a better way to pump blood during surgery.
At The Knick, Bertie Jr shows his father around while doing rounds with patients. An injured, sick man comes in with rat bites. He’s the one who stomped rats at the beginning of the episode; after he slipped, they got him a bunch. Algernon gets pushed out of the way mostly, called a shoeshine boy essentially, then Everett wrestles his way in next to Chickering. They’ll soon have to accept him. Particularly now that Algernon stands tall in Gallinger’s face, ready for a punch instead of getting suckered. I just want to see Everett get the smile wiped right off his face.

 


Cleary comes across a young woman covered in blood, laying in bed. He takes her in the ambulance, eventually ending up in Thackery’s hands. At his side are Bertie and Sister Harriet, watching on is a distraught Cleary and an interested Dr. Bertie Chickering Sr. The blood is leaking everywhere. The young girl didn’t want to be pregnant and massacred herself. At a time like this, we truly see that someone like Harriet is needed. But it should’ve been legal, instead of her having to do it backdoor secretive. So many young lives lost, so much horror. This scene is real gruesome, in a brief moment. We see John reach inside the woman, then Bertie; the first shot is raw, almost surreal. Lots of blood. A little later, Bertie’s father is not exactly impressed because he came from a worse place than The Knickerbocker, all so that his son didn’t have to go through the same. Except Bertie likes the way Dr. Thackery operates, the experiments he tries, and the methods which he attempts. He is like no other, certainly. Alas, family problems plague Bertram Junior.
Speaking of problems – Herman’s in a jam. Down in the morgue, he has a slight confrontation with Cleary who knows what he’s doing. Barrow talks about “the going price for a fresh body“. Cleary just isn’t having any of his nonsense. We find out he was a gravedigger. Doesn’t surprise me in the least. He must have done whatever he could after coming over from Ireland. He and Sister Harriet go see the girl who died earlier get buried. Along with a bunch of other bodies in a semi-mass grave. Harriet says a prayer before they head off.

 


The end of this episode sees Lucy riding off on her bike, as Dr. Thackery heads out – once again – to Chinatown. We’ll see what other interesting things progress in this shady relationship in the next episode titled “They Capture the Heat”, as well as where all the other tenuous, wild friction between characters heads. Stay tuned.

The Knick – Season 2, Episode 1: “Ten Knots”

Cinemax’s The Knick
Season 2, Episode 1:
 “Ten Knots”
Directed by Steven Soderbergh
Written by Jack Amiel & Michael Begler

* For a review of the next episode, “You’re No Rose” – click here
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.30.53 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.30.58 PMI’ve only just now decided to start reviews for The Knick‘s second season. Being a huge fan of the first, I thought it’d be fun to get in on the action.
So, after the wild events of the first season in New York – in particular the gutpunch of the final episode as Dr. John W. Thackery (Clive Owen) finds himself being weened off one drug, only to be weened onto the dreaded heroin – Season 2’s opener “Ten Knots” begins with a nice fade in on ole Thack’s eyes; fitting shot to start. But first it’s a blurry image turning into a little girl… then the watery eyes of Thackery emerge.
Then we’re back with Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson). She’s dictating a letter in narration to Thackery. Apparently Sister Harriet (Cara Seymour) is “bearing up” according to her while Herman Barrow (Jeremy Bobb) is still kicking about, naturally, as well as young Dr. Bertie Chickering (Michael Angarano) and the steadfast Dr. Algernon Edwards (André Holland). They’re all getting by best they can. Though, Dr. Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson) hasn’t returned as of yet, even with his suspension lifted.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.32.15 PMMost interesting, as usual, is Dr. Thackery. In a tiny room he works on a woman’s nose. Very gruesome little bit, not to mention Thack looks like something ragged and worn out. Worse, it appears he’s working for vials of drugs. Sad state of affairs.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.32.27 PMAnother suffering soul, Sister Harriet gets a visit in jail from her Mother Superior (Maryann Plunkett). Mother asks Harriet if the charges against her are true, to which the latter does admit clearly. It’s a sad scene once again, as even the non-religious (like myself) will feel bad for Harriet; she only wanted to do the right thing and help women in need, but this of course turned her against her faith in confrontation. Mother Superior pretty much rubs salt in the wound.
Another actually gruesome scene – at the home of Dr. Gallinger, his wife Eleanor (Maya Kazan) is helping to size up her sister Dorothy (Annabelle Attanasio) for some new teeth… teeth which came out of her own face. Eleanor has a grim smile now with sharp and stumpy gums in her mouth. What an image.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.33.11 PMDr. Edwards has a problem with the retina in his left eye. This is obviously troubling regarding Algernon’s abilities as a surgeon, difficulties with his vision would mean even worse things for his career. At the same time, Edwards hopes to become the permanent chief surgeon at The Knickerbocker Hospital while Thack is not around. What I love is that Edwards works well with those who wish to give him a chance. For instance, his relationship with the youthful Dr. Chickering seems pretty great; he gives Bertie the chance to have a hand at doing a surgery, encouraging him not to simply watch and rather get his hands on the work himself.
Only problem is, as always, Edwards is constantly the underdog to everyone at the top – simply because he’s African-American. Foolish nonsense, though, we are at the dawn of the 20th century in this series. Hindsight is twenty-twenty.
But the scene where Dr. Edwards is being completely dismissed by the hospital’s board was downright brutish! Wonderfully acted and written scene. Still nasty, though. He’s clearly an amazing doctor, we as more modern men and women can see this, yet those racist old white men just can’t get it through their heads.
One of my favourite moments in this Season 2 opener is near the end when Dr. Edwards is let in on the photo-op for The Knickerbocker, to the dismay of a few old white men. Such a classic moment! Loved the look on all the faces of the others involved in the photo, actually made me laugh aloud. Also fist pumped a little for Algie, he’s fucking classy.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.33.25 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.33.32 PMWe watch Cornelia Robertson (Juliet Rylance) still continually trying to do good in the world – she carts a load of green vegetables into an obviously poor neighbourhood, Chinatown, and finds herself overrun with people trying to get their hands on a bit of food; pretty dire, no?
Inspecter Jacob Speight (David Fierro) is still kicking around the hospital, up in Barrow’s office, investigating patients records. Certainly we’ll see more about the outbreak of plague, the dirty Black Death, more and more as the episodes get going this season.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.34.23 PMDr. Gallinger heads over to Cromartie Hospital where Thack, under the name Dr. Crutchfield, is wasting away. Turns out Thackery doesn’t want to leave, he’d rather not go back to The Knick. The drugs have taken hold and I doubt they’ll ever let go. He actually tries to convince Everett to infiltrate one of the doctors offices in order to get some cocaine and other drugs for him – a true addict, through and through. Naturally, Gallinger is only there to try and bring Thackery back to the hospital so Dr. Edwards can’t become chief of surgery; therefore Everett could gladly go back and work under him. It’s amazing Everett is willing to work under a drug-adled headcase like Thackery and not Edwards, all because of race. This whole hypocrisy really shows off the idiocy of racists.
Then in a scene later, Thack wakes tied at the wrists. He’s in the belly of a small sailboat, which is headed out on the ocean. Is Dr. Gallinger going to try detoxing Thack?
Way out on the Atlantic, Gallinger tells Thackery about his plans saying he’s going to “fix the mess” Thack drummed up. Only two options Everett says: “Either get well, or jump off.” Everett also gives Thack some rope to tie, saying he’ll know the naughty doctor is back in control if he can tie the ten knots on a wall chart nearby. I thought this was a great touch.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.34.36 PMTom Cleary (Chris Sullivan) shows up down at the jail where he sits with Sister Harriet. He gives a sort-of-apology. Funny, though, how Harriet shows off her sense of humour in the face of so-called justice. She jokes around with Cleary quite a bit here, and even Cleary acts the serious part of the pair. He’s worried about her, clearly. Even with the weak apology (that wasn’t even really an apology), you can tell Tom wants to help Harriet and plans on doing just that. Can’t wait to see how their subplot plays out because I like these two characters, ever since the beginning of the first season. Even further, both Sullivan and Seymour are great actors playing off one another.
Over in Chinatown, Barrow is meeting with Ping Wu (Perry Yung). Wu is negotiating terms with ole Herman – he needs his women, the prostitutes, to be clean. Barrow’s hoping to whittle down his debt from Season 1 by providing discount services for Wu’s stable of ladies; $2 reduction with each service. The money man at The Knickerbocker is no better than a gangster when it comes down to it.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.34.56 PMSo happy the continuity of the aesthetic in The Knick overall is being preserved. With Soderbergh as D.P and Cliff Martinez still rocking out his unique, beautiful score in every episode, there’s no way to deny the power of so many scenes. There’s one sequence which begins with an old school boxing match – in a padded ring with no ropes and a big Masonic-like eye/pyramid on it (similar to the American dollar bill) –  then leads back out to the boat with Thack/Gallinger… such an amazing piece of filmmaking. Soderbergh gives the grim plot such a distinctive look and feel with his camerawork, on top of that there’s a relentlessly percussive score happening which almost keeps you in a frenzy for the two or three solid minutes of the entire sequence. It does not get any better. More and more of this as the episode heads to a close in the last 20 minutes, proving why this Cinemax series is one of the best to ever grace television. Period.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.35.20 PMWhen the episode’s finale comes, Thack has managed to tie the ten knots for Gallinger. However, at the edge of the boat he sees a sickly looking girl – the one from the beginning of the episode – and starts at her with his wide, bloodshot eyes. It’s clear he is not at all back in full control, nor should we have ever thought so – Everett may be too gullible compared to the addiction that rages inside Thack.
Could the girl be Thack’s daughter, one who may have died? There’s a pain inside him he tries to drown in drugs. Take a look at the girl’s eyes – they look very much similar to those bulging out of Thack. Either way, we’ll figure out more about the force driving him towards drugging himself into a stupor, this season will bring us more characterization. Owen does a fantastic job with the role and I’m always itching for more after an episode finishes.
Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.36.17 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.36.23 PM Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 4.36.30 PMCan’t wait for the second episode. This is one of my favourite series’ ever, plus it’s one of the best on television right now. Stay tuned for my review of the next episode, “You’re No Rose”, coming again this Friday, October 23rd. Cheers!

Saw III Gets Personal

Saw III. 2006. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer, Leigh Whannell, Mpho Koaho, Barry Flatman, Lyriq Bent, J. LaRose, Debra McCabe, Costas Mandylor, and Betsy Russell. Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 108 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
saw_iii_ver2_xlgA reason I didn’t enjoy Saw II near as much as the first is due to how focused the film seemed on going for a shock rather than building up a genuinely creepy atmosphere and ratcheting up the tension like Saw did so well. Though I don’t think Saw III is nearly as amazing as that either, it’s definitely much better than the first sequel.
One major problem I had with the previous entry is how there were eight different characters stuck in the house. I mean, it just felt forced and all of the characters weren’t given proper time to be developed, even in the slightest sense. So that was something which detracted from the film’s story and the tension overall. Here in the third film, I think whittling the main focus of characters down to a couple – plus exploring the relationship between Amanda Young and Jigsaw further – is an aspect of Saw III I’ve enjoyed incredibly. There’s certainly a degree of shocking horror, for some, but I feel more so in this film than the one which came before the concentration has come back to character development and full blooded tension. Partly, I think this has to do with the fact Leigh Whannell is the sole screenwriter again, as it was in the original film, and Darrne Lynn Bousman sticks to directing as opposed to writing; as a team, I think they do a pretty good job on this film together.

Saw III tells two simultaneous stories – one concerns Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) who has become a rundown man after his little boy was killed in a hit and run car accident, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) subjects him to many various tests in order to reach what he wants so badly: revenge; the other tells of Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh), kidnapped by Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) who turns out to be Jigsaw’s helper, and made to perform surgery on the now dying John Kramer.
Rigged with a collar set to blast her head off should John flatline, Dr. Denlon is forced to do her best in order to keep the serial killer alive, all the while Amanda chomps at her like a little angry dog. And Jeff finds his sanity unravelling, confronted with the sick, twisted world of Jigsaw.
scr-9I’ve got to give it to Darren Lynn Bousman, he knows how to open a film with an exciting and grim sequence. He began the previous one with a pretty definite and impressive bang continuing to do so here. Saw III is no exception, as Bousman gives us a glimpse of Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) who has been reduced to destroying his own body in order to escape the clutches of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). This is merely the start. Much more horror is to come after this initial scene.
One of the BEST NASTY scenes is actually just a homemade surgery, essentially. That’s actually why they didn’t cut the scene down where Dr. Denlon performs surgery on Jigsaw’s skull, because it’s the same as anything you might see on television or in a medical documentary. And still, it is a brutish sequence, in the best kind of way. There’s an amazing sense of tension and you almost sweat alongside Dr. Denlon as she works away on the dying killer. Just – WOW! Great, great scene both in writing and execution.
1193224_1363647264662_fullThere’s absolutely gory and also disturbing horror in this movie. Not in the same sense it was in Saw II, but it’s still there. No denying that. What I enjoy about the nastiness here, though, is that it isn’t the only thing the film relies on to carry its weight.
For instance, even just the story of Jeff’s character is better than most of what was going on in the previous instalment of this franchise. I like how Jigsaw’s method is switched up slightly here, as he’s essentially trying bring Jeff out of his revenge coma and into a reality, instead of merely dreaming of the act; now he is given the chance to actually HAVE revenge. So while there’s still traps and brutality, the characterization in this film is much better. Again, I’ve got the feeling most of the characters in the second movie came out of Bousman’s own script and then Whannell merely acted as a writer to flesh things out in order to connect it solidly with the Saw world he and Wan already setup (check out the history and you’ll understand). With Whannell back acting as sole screenwriter once more, his writing shines more and the characters are richer for that. You can see it easily in how things are trimmed down and each of the important characters ends up with sufficient screen time.
We’re also getting a great look at the character of Amanda, as well as her deep connection with John Kramer/Jigsaw. They’ve got a touching, emotional sort of relationship, but it’s most definitely an unhealthy, terrifying one at its most base. It’s nothing more than two psychotics bonding over psychosis.
2006_saw_3_008That leads me to another point I’ve got to make, which is in regards to the atmosphere and tone. Bousman did a decent job on Saw II trying to hold onto what Wan did with the first, but I think in the third film he’s able to tap into more of what the first did so well. There’s a better gritty atmosphere in this instalment, as opposed to the second which lacked that aspect. Each of the rooms Jeff ends up in during Saw III sort of has their own feel, again similar to the style of the first Saw.
Better than that, I love every moment of the scenes where Dr. Denlon is in the impromptu surgical operating room with Amanda and Jigsaw. There are a bunch of intense and terrifying shots, as well as scenes in general. But mostly it’s the gritty tone and the macabre atmosphere like we got in Saw which sustains so much of what’s enjoyable about Saw III. These scenes visually and aesthetically all around remind me of the dirty bathroom scenes with Dr. Gordon/Adam from the original film; not in a copycat sense, merely it harkens back to the film series origins, providing that grittiness I find so effective.
SawIII_Skull_1200_673_s saw-iii1What I like most is how the two parallel stories are happening – Dr. Denlon and Jeff – while Jigsaw himself is laid up in bed with his brain inflamed. I thought that was a genius touch because it’s not the typical type of horror movie one might expect. Of course, this is a hard movie to classify as you can’t truly call Jigsaw a typical serial killer, therefore this movie is not really a slasher. But regardless of how you want to type this into a classification, or a genre, a sub-genre, whatever, Saw III breaks the mould slightly in the way it presents its killer. We knew already once meeting Jigsaw up close and personal in the second film there’d most likely be some consequences to the fact he had a terrible disease. Now with this entry into the series, this big risk for Jigsaw actually gets enacted through its plot. At least I found it interesting, anyways. Not every day you see a film series show a whole movie concerning its killer basically dying – most of the time, the villains of the horror movies are INVINCIBLE, UNKILLABLE, UNSTOPPABLE MURDER MACHINES. Jigsaw, on the other hand, is a completely different breed of killer. Something I like about Saw and a reason I feel this is up there next to the original as one of the best in the series.
scr-8I don’t want to ruin any of the twists or anything concerning the ending. So I’ll just leave it with saying this: I think Whannell wrote a terrific script which focused on some interesting, complicated characters.
This is not as good as the first, but comes much closer than Saw II. Most definitely I feel this is a worthy 4 out of 5 star horror. There are some truly unnerving pieces of horror, though, Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell together opt for more atmosphere and genuine scares rather than ALL shock. Just don’t let me misrepresent Saw III – there are some SICK moments here, especially the PIG VAT! Beware.
A lot of the other movies in this series degenerate into excuses for increasingly depraved and nasty trap designs. Saw III manages to include lots of disturbing bits while maintaining an impressive atmosphere using character, tension and some solid directing.

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.