It's been awhile since a horror trailer captured the public imagination as strongly as “Goodnight Mommy's,” which has inspired endless YouTube reaction videos and hyperbolic headlines proclaiming it “the scariest trailer of all time.” The film itself is less extreme than the hype would suggest; belying its unintended reputation, it is less a wall-to-wall shocker than a quiet, slow-burning exercise in dread that builds to a truly horrifying finale. What I was most struck by, however, was how much the film moved me with its story of ten-year-old twin boys (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) who become convinced that their post-cosmetic surgery mother (Susanne Wuest) is an impostor.
“Goodnight Mommy” is also very good, and the critical community seems to agree: the film has racked up a number of impressive reviews and was recently chosen by Austria as the country's official entry at the 2016 Academy Awards. I sat down with writer/directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala on Thursday to talk about the film (hitting select U.S. screens tomorrow), including their reaction to the trailer hype, what's wrong with most modern horror films, how they chose their impressive young stars out of a pool of 140 twins and whether they'd be open to the idea of an American remake.
See below for all the highlights from our conversation.
1. People in Austria only wanted to see the film after the trailer went viral in the U.S.
Fiala: “[The trailer hype is] certainly weird because it got so big, which you can never plan, I think. I don't know how it happened. We're proud, of course. We were just telling the story that the film was released in Austria in January, and in Austria no one really cares for Austrian films. They all want to see American films. So not too many people came to see it.
“But now with all these trailer reactions, Austrian people keep asking us when they could see the film and when it would be released. And we told them it was [released], but you didn't come! So that's a good effect [from the hype], because we can re-release it [in Austria] and many more people are gonna see it.”
2. They're not worried about the trailer somehow “misrepresenting” what the film is.
Franz: “We are not able to judge. Because we ourselves made the Austrian trailer, and obviously [it] didn't get so big. So it might be a good idea if someone from the outside creates the trailer, because a trailer is a marketing tool. It should sell the film. And the film itself, it's another thing. So I don't know. I think it's good like it is.”
3. They aren't impressed with most modern horror movies.
Fiala: “It's good to hear that people are moved [emotionally]. Because with most modern horror films, we feel that's part of the problem, that they don't really concentrate on the story or the characters, or the issues they want to talk about. It's simply like [special] effects. And if it's over, it may be scary, but if it's over, it leaves you completely empty because there is nothing you can get out of it. And we hope that our film has something you can get out of it, and that stays with you.”
4. They chose their young leads because they weren't afraid to get physical with the lead actress during an audition.
Fiala: “It was like 140 twin pairs we auditioned. …and there were three pairs we thought were talented enough to be in the film. And we did the final round of casting and tied the actress to the chair, and told the children that this woman had kidnapped their mom and they had to find out where the mom was. And two pairs were kind of intimidated by the situation, which is kind of normal, and they were just kind of like shouting at her. And then came finally our twin pair [Lukas and Elias Schwarz] and they immediately grabbed the pencil and started poking her.”
5. The young actors didn't understand the true horror of what they were shooting until they watched the first ten minutes of the movie.
Fiala: “They still say [the experience of shooting the movie is] the best summer they've ever experienced. And I think if you would ask them, they would remember playing a lot of table tennis and going swimming and stuff like that, and then from time to time they had to be in front of a camera, like walking from left to right.
“So that was basically what I think they felt they were doing. And when we showed them like the first ten minutes in the sound studio, we were re-doing some sounds — and there was nothing terrifying happening, it's just like the children playing — they were like at the edges of their seat, freaked by what they were seeing, because it was so different than they imagined it to be.”
6. The film plays on some very deep-rooted fears.
Franz: “The first part of the film is told out of the perspective of the children, and then it kind of shifts. So it's also about [a] clash of perspectives, actually..we also kind of thought of how the children see the world. And of course, it's a more fairytale world, sometimes it's a nightmarish world, but they see it with all the fears they have.
“I remember when I was a child I used to play monster with my mother, on a bed, under a blanket, and I liked that game, but there was one moment she kind of, to me, she transformed into a monster and I was really so terrified, because I thought, 'Okay, now the true soul comes out, my mom is a monster.' And I think every child knows that or can connect to that.”
7. They aren't against the idea of an American remake — they just don't want to be the ones who direct it.
Franz: “Actually, I would be curious to see that…of course we would never do it like Michael Haneke [with 'Funny Games'], to do the same film twice. Because he did his own remake. I mean…it's too boring, I think. I'd rather go on and have…we have so many new ideas.”
8. They aren't sure what their next project is going to be, but it will provoke and disturb no matter what.
Fiala: “We have like 10 or 15 pages [written] on each [of five ideas] and don't know which one we're gonna pick. And it's all — not horror films, but…like a mixture. It's like, two historical projects, and lone science fiction film even. But what they all have in common is that they're…”
“Goodnight Mommy” hits select theaters on Friday.