Arriving in theaters this weekend is Goodnight Mommy, the stunning psychological thriller from Austrian filmmakers Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. The story follows twins Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) as they await the arrival of their mother (Susanne Wuest), who has been away undergoing radical cosmetic surgery. Once she’s home, the siblings begin to suspect the woman that has returned is not their mother but someone who has taken her place, and the family is soon embroiled in a struggle for power and truth as the boys set out to uncover what really happened to their mom.

Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with Fiala and Franz about Goodnight Mommy and heard from the duo on how reality television inspired their arthouse horror film, their experiences collaborating with their two younger co-stars, and much more. Look for Goodnight Mommy in theaters on Friday courtesy of RADiUS-TWC.

Let's start at the beginning and discuss where the idea for the story of Goodnight Mommy first came from.

Severin Fiala: That’s easily answered. It comes from watching TV together. Veronika and I watch this reality TV soap called Extreme Makeover, or something like that. It’s where women, mostly 40+, get a complete makeover and plastic surgery and a new nose and new cheekbones. New hair. New clothes. New everything, basically. They're separated from their families for a time of two or three months and then they're reunited on this very special day.

We thought, if you look closely at the eyes of the children, that sometimes that's not pure joy when they see their mothers again. It's some kind of severe irritation in the first moment. We even saw in one episode where the girl grabbed her father's arm and said, "It's not my Mom." And that inspired us to take it further.

Veronika Franz: There are other reasons too, to doubt that this woman who came home is not their mom. What would happen then?

Severin Fiala: So what happens next is that we sit together in the living room and share ideas with each other to take the story further. It’s kind of like we play games with each other, wanting to surprise each other and have fun thinking how the story could end. It's like we're each other's first audience.

Veronika Franz: First, we played with each other. Then, we played with the children and now, we get to play with the audience [laughs].

Goodnight Mommy is very much a statement on the relationships between parents and their children, and you delve into issues with identity, as well. Were those themes in the back of your mind while working on the script?

Severin Fiala: Yeah, it's something we're definitely interested in.

Veronika Franz: We're interested in how you can change depending on the situation you are in. You start off as this kind of person, but then you are in a complete different situation in your life and everything changes. An easy example would be if you have been in war. You then become another person, maybe due to the new circumstances once you come home.

Actually, we kind of think you're not only one person. You don't only have one identity. You have several identities. They may appear, they may not appear. It depends on the situation you are in. That's why we kind of have all these masks and these stern faces and these nice faces too. What's behind them? What’s behind the bandages of the mother in this film? We like the idea of masks, because they’re hiding something but also revealing something at the same time.

Severin Fiala: And people like children don't know anything about the circumstances that have changed for you and that's, of course, really frightening to them. They simply see human beings completely changed as a person with no context.

Veronika Franz: As you mentioned, we were also very interested in power, family relationships, or power games in families. It was something we focused on even more in the original screenplay, but we cut it out a little bit because it was too long. But we wanted to look at, if you’re a parent, how it could fall back on you. Or how mothers are kind of overwhelmed with their duties and all their things they have to do and nobody helps them.

Nobody tells you what to do or how to do it when you step into this role. You're supposed to just "know" as a mother but actually, I don't think that's true. It's like any other profession where some people are more talented and some people are less talented at it. And sometimes, you are facing things you didn't ever expect to face, where you feel tied up (in a manner of speaking) because you don't know what to do. You think the children are in power and you don't know what to do anymore. It’s terrifying.

Severin Fiala: You're not in charge anymore.

Veronika Franz: Yeah, you're not in charge anymore and I think those are issues in our society which are not talked about enough.

Severin Fiala: Making a horror film is the perfect means of talking about those kinds of issues. In a horror film, people are willing to look at stuff they would never want to confront themselves with otherwise. You sit back and watch something that's unpleasant and addresses stuff you wouldn't want to think about otherwise.

Some of the most effective and best horror movies of all time are the ones that confront the audience and challenge you as a viewer. That's why a movie like Goodnight Mommy stands out.

Veronika Franz: That's what we want this film to do.

Severin Fiala: Thank you. We are very proud that you would say that. It's exactly the way we feel. Most modern horror films today are just about effects, not really interested in being about compelling characters or stories or issues.

Veronika Franz: Really good horror films can be frightening and suspenseful, but they can also talk about things that are really important to people. You have to find a balance, though.

You definitely do. I wanted to ask about Lukas and Elias. It's so hard to find one good kid for a movie but to find twins seems remarkably difficult. This movie lives and dies by them and they really rose to the challenge with their work in the film.

Veronika Franz: It wasn't actually that difficult to find them. There are some special ways to find twins, like calling schools, or principals, where they instantly would know if they have twins at that age in their schools. Then, we would send letters out and invite them to casting sessions. We had in the end about 140 pairs of twins.

Severin Fiala: We think we basically got everyone. And if we hadn't found anyone...

Veronika Franz: That would have been scary [laughs]. But we had all these twins waiting in the waiting room which was kind of creepy, really. In the end, though, we had three pairs of twins left that we really liked. For the last casting round, we had it where we tied the main actress to a chair and we'd tell the children, “Okay, she kidnapped your Mom. You have to find out where your Mommy is. Try to find out where your Mommy is and you can do whatever you want.” That’s how we found them because they were the only two that poked at her instantly.

What was required of them to make this movie was very courageous on their part. We liked that they looked very fragile and beautiful so you would really like them at first, but then they could take it somewhere else too. We were very lucky.

Severin Fiala: What's hardest is that when you start out, you never know if they can go all the way, especially when it's two months of shooting.

Veronika Franz: It's a long time; it's hard work.

Severin Fiala: And we didn't give them a script either. We just gave them the basic situations to work from. Mom comes home. She's completely changed. You have to find out what's strange about her and then we shot it chronologically, so day by day they got a bit more information. We did this to keep their interest and they wanted to find out what's going to happen next. What was going to happen tomorrow? They really were interested in the story until the very last day of shooting.

Veronika Franz: They even tried to ask our team members because they desperately wanted to find out if she was their Mom or was she not their Mom, but we managed to hide it.

Severin Fiala: It was a pretty hard task because they're very intelligent. They could basically find out everything [laughs].

Veronika Franz: Actually, they were not allowed to see the film until today; they were only allowed to see the first half so far. The second half we kind of agreed with the parents not to show them until the movie was coming out. They still say it's the best summer of their lives and I think we are all very proud of that, and of them.

  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.