Interview: Writer/Directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala Talk GOODNIGHT MOMMY

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SHOCK talks to the makers of the most disturbing film of 2015, GOODNIGHT MOMMY.

GOODNIGHT MOMMY, the new horror film from Austrian writing/directing duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, will be out on Blu-ray and DVD on December 1, 2015 from Anchor Bay Entertainment and RADiUS. It’s not just your usual, run-of-the-mill really good scary terrifying-as-fuck horror film, oh no. GOODNIGHT MOMMY is Austria’s official 2016 Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film. It’s a heady mix of European slow burn and classy European shocking violence that we just don’t seem to get from American horror films.

GOODNIGHT MOMMY has a twist that some American reviewers have called “embarrassingly predictable,” but I actually think it makes you [me] want to do something drastic, like stab your[my]self with some kind of non-lethal kitchen utensil, not necessarily in a bad way. We were lucky enough to interview Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz about GOODNIGHT MOMMY just in time for the official US release. I was invited over to their exclusive dinner party to which only the very best horror journalists were allowed and also celebrities, because I live an exciting and exclusive LA lifestyle of which you can only dream. There, we discussed, among other things that cool people talk about, their film. It went a little something like this:

SHOCK: As an American, watching GOODNIGHT MOMMY is reminiscent of other European films, like Alexandre Aja’s HAUTE TENSION and Michael Haneke’s FUNNY GAMES. It is atmospheric, with a slow build up to horrific violence. Can you talk a bit about this style of filmmaking as opposed to the tendency towards cheap scares and clichés in American horror films?

SEVERIN: The Haneke comparison – we are very proud to be compared to him because the filmmaking quality is very accurate and precise in what he does and what he wants to do, and very good, so we really love to be compared to that. I think horror films, no matter if they are European or form the US, and maybe there are not so many from the US nowadays, but we feel that good horror films can tackle and have to tackle existential themes and topics. Horror films can make you watch things that you normally would look away from, like death, and loss, and grief, and very dark stuff. But they make you watch it, and that’s what great horror films can achieve. I think there are not so many from the US nowadays, but I think that has to do with the financing. People are too afraid to give money for films they are not so sure of, if they will be a success or not. It’s not so much about the film but it is about financial security. In Austria, films are state-funded, so once you get the money you are basically free to shoot it the way you want, even if it is risky or dark. So that’s why it’s a little easier in Europe these days.

SHOCK: This is your first genre film. In a previous interview you said, “we wanted to make a film which physically overpowers the audience and makes them shiver or sweat or scream.” Why?

SEVERIN: That’s the reaction we want if we go to the cinema. In Austria, it is mostly a theater/opera culture where you lean back and watch what you see and reflect on it, you’re constantly thinking but not experiencing something. We feel that cinema it its ideal form is something that makes you experience and feel something with your body. It makes you show bodily reactions. Naturally, we want the audience to experience this with our film. This is the greatest compliment so far: that we have had two viewers faint.

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SHOCK: You’ve said that the inspiration for GOODNIGHT MOMMY came from the TV show Extreme Makeover and how children on that show react to their parents after surgery. But it is also about power and family dynamics. Why is a horror film the perfect way to explore these issues about power, masks, and family dynamics? What is it about horror that allows us to tell stories, like this one, that we can’t tell using other film genres?

SEVERIN: A horror film is very hard to escape from. In its ideal form, it’s very suspenseful, so you have to stick with it. Family is always sacred; it’s hard to talk about taboo trust issues. If the bonds between mother and child are broken, that’s something you don’t really get the chance to talk about publicly, with people listening and watching. Horror films are thrilling: people watching want to have a good time. They want to be excited. After the excitement is over, they want to start thinking, maybe something stays with them.

VERONIKA: And of course, horror films are about fears. The fear of death, but fear is a basic and normal emotion, everyone has it, and we have to talk about that. I think you can make a horror film about almost any issue. We are writing a new film, it’s a horror film, it’s historical and it’s about depressed young women. It’s about depression, and fearing life, in general, so there are a lot of issues you can handle with horror films. Another idea we have for a horror film is inspired by the current refugee crisis in Europe. You can confront people with things they don’t want to see because we can, in a thrilling way.

SHOCK: We’re interested in how men and women work together as directing partnerships on horror films. Recently some male/female teams have released some really great genre films, like Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia with their film H, as well as Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani on THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S TEARS, for instance. How do you co-direct a horror film with another person?

SEVERIN: we feel that the first and only thing that is important is that you feel the same way, that you love the same films, that you share a vision of what cinema should be like. That enables you to do a film together. Apart from that, it’s easy. If it’s not about your ego and being right and fighting all the time, but about the film and achieving your vision, then it is easy to do it together. Our differences, as a man and a woman, enriches the film because it adds different perspectives to it. Veronika may have a different perspective on an angle than I have, but we want to make the same film, so those perspectives make it a richer film. We see it as a chance for two brains to work on one script and one film. We never quarreled, we never fought, and we were always thinking completely the same.

VERONIKA: we like to play with each other and the audience, this method is something we really like. So when we co-wrote we would tell each other the ideas and tell the ideas to each other and each be the first audience for it. I think this is an advantage for us. I really trust [Severin], and that is the most important thing. And vice-versa.

SHOCK: Let me preface this question by saying that I’m a huge Marxist, so I notice these kinds of things. The setting: it’s a huge house, with lots of space around it. The mom is an anchorwoman for TV. These are very wealthy people in a very isolated, wealthy house. Why did you choose to make them upper class? Was it purely because plastic surgery is expensive, or were there other reasons?

SEVERIN: We wanted to get rid of everything that would distract the viewer from the main conflict, like other people. The house had to be isolated, because we didn’t want too many other characters around. We feel if we were to tell the story about poor people, they would have other problems than the ones depicted in the film. For this kind of story you need that kind of people.

Watch the trailer for GOODNIGHT MOMMY below:

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