Hey! Sorry for the delay in updating the site, but my laptop suddenly died and I was thrown back upon my desktop and ipad, at which point I found myself mortifyingly stymied. Here I am, one of those people who thinks he could survive for weeks in the wild on bark and grubs, if such matters came to pass, and I was completely thrown off by this small loss in technology! Humbled, my laptop back, we proceed...
So this is the new acclaimed horror movie, from Austria, of all places, and obviously I had to run off and see it. Now, the word on the street with this one is that the "twist" is quite, quite obvious, but that the technique and tension all make it worth seeing anyway. The other word on the street is that this is real "torture porn," which also has quite a bit of truth to it. I saw it last night and, honestly, I really don't know what to think about it. It was well made, it had great tension and some wonderful images, but... I'm just not completely sure.
We begin with a clip from... Something... That shows a woman surrounded by her children, singing a goodnight song in the manner of something from The Sound of Music... Which makes you reflect on what a bizarre tradition this is. Was this a common thing in Austria? Like, the mom trains the kids in a song, with simple choreography, to perform for dad before bedtime? Anyway, that clip is ironic, we have some credits, and the film begins. We meet these two 9-year-old twins, Elias and Lukas, walking in a bog, through the woods, then two strange scenes: they come across a drain/cave that has "vagina" written across the top (it doesn't, but may as well have), where Lukas goes in first. Then we see Elias on a float in a lake, while bubbles come up, Lukas apparently below. Then they see a car up at their house, and know that their mom has returned.
She has just had plastic surgery and is maybe not in the best mood. Her head is covered in bandages that essentially leave her looking like huge skull (a la Nightmare Before Christmas). You'll also soon notice some decor touches such as a painting of a woman who looks like mom's figure looking out a window, and lots of little doll figures, that also vaguely resemble her, scattered about the room. The boys also live in a room with a wall pattern that largely resembles ants. So, maybe their decorative choices could be more inspiring of mental health. Those darling boys also have a terrarium full of hissing cockroaches (like 35-40). And where's dad? Good question.
By the way, large stretches of the film for the first half are dead silent or extremely quiet, to the point that I was finding it difficult to eat my popcorn for fear of bothering people. Now, mom will only talk to Elias, not Lukas, and only makes one lunch, only pours one drink, and only lays out one set of clothes. When asked why she won't pour a glass for Lukas, she says "You know why." You'll notice that the boys' clothes are very similar, when not identical.
Now, mom is being a bit of a bitch, and tells the boys she needs absolute silence and the blinds closed. There is one very clever, very simple surprise that I'd love to tell you about, but it's so good I have to let you discover on your own. It involves mom's crunchy snack (not a euphemism). There are also several good visual touches, like mom's red eye in the mirror. The boys sneak in a stray cat (that they found in a grotto full of human bones) and we are aware that if mom found it, she'd be furious. She does get right up on top of Elias and smash his face violently when he messes with her. The boys now think that she is not their mother, and you might agree, once they play a tape of her bidding them goodnight, in a much, kinder, gentler voice than we've heard from her thus far.
SPOILERS > > >
Soon the boys bring a cockroach in and let it loose on her face, whereupon it crawls right into her mouth. Then they install a baby monitor under her bed, so they can listen to her. Then... Where has that cat got to? And you too might be wondering, since the cat has been AWOL for a while. Well, it's dead, and the kids say "I'm sure mom did it." They notice that mom has removed pics of their dad and Lukas from the walls and picture albums. Then they do what you or I might do, put all their cockroaches in jars, clean out the terrarium, fill it with formaldehyde (don't you have gallons of formaldehyde around the house?) plunk the dead cat in it, and put it on the living room coffee table. Which is hilarious. There is definitely a thread of black humor winding through here. Anyway, mom gets mad, and dumps all their cockroaches in with it. Soon after, she makes Elias promise to stop talking to Lukas. Then she gets her bandages off, and is a lot nicer. She asks the boys "Are we friends?"
Well, she's about to find out that they're really not. And here's where you have a last chance to avoid spoilers if you wish. The serious ones. Actually I'm not going to tell you specifically what happens, but basically the kids tie mom to the bed and torture her for the rest of the film. They go quite far, and we have numerous occasions to reflect that kids their age don't have a very developed sense of consequences. And that they are at a stage where most of the horrors they visit upon her focus on the mouth and eyes. There are several excellent macabre shocks, but it's hard to really admire them, as they are so nasty. What is the pleasure here? Which is part of what makes the movie so uncomfortable. Except, the pleasure of the filmmaking and how excellently it is playing our nerves and offering shocking images.
There were some gasps in my theater when the big secret was finally revealed, but really, it’s SO, SO obvious, I was a little surprised some people weren’t clued in. But you know—SOME people. There’s a bit more of a surprise, I mean, just where this went, and the ending is what you might imagine would go with that. Oh wait, I have to tell you the big secret, in order to discuss something else: There’s only one boy. There used to be a Lukas, but he died in the accident that disfigured Mom [and might have killed dad as well]. What’s weird is one shot in which the boys have a photo of the mother with another woman that looks exactly like her. Is SHE a twin as well? Could she be an impostor? If she is, the movie is more clever than I thought—having one obvious “answer” in order to hide a more intriguing one. And there's so much creepiness going on in all the images and bizarre circumstances [a grotto of human bones near the house?] that you might wonder if another whole, call it "subconscious," level is going on at the same time. But I’m afraid I’m not interested enough to go see it again and micro-analyze it. You tell me what you found.
Still, if it is just the one secret, it makes one wonder if the writer/director really thought no one would guess. If not, you can imagine how chagrined one would be to have every review say how very obvious it is. Maybe you’d have to go along and say you’d meant it all along? Like when directors make a serious movie and everybody takes it as a comedy?
< < < SPOILERS END
So ultimately, I have to recommend it. There’s just too many great things about it, even if I’m not 100% comfortable with what the ultimate goal seems to be. It’s not uplifting, that’s for sure, but it might provide interesting counterprogramming for a festival of family films. The shocks are just too clever and brilliantly orchestrated, set amongst visuals of such understated beauty that the whole thing is just very, very unsettling, and for long after you leave the movie. So how can you not recommend that? Even if it is one twisted tale.
Yeah, if you like horror and well-made films.