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This story first appeared in the Dec. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
Goodnight Mommy is the first narrative feature from writer-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, whose work includes the documentary Kern, about the controverisal Austrian director Peter Kern. Their new film can’t be classified among this awards season’s more feel-good entries, but the two still have plenty to be happy about.
Austria has selected their film as the country’s foreign-language Oscar submission, the duo recently signed with WME and they are celebrating the fact that Mommy, which was released stateside by Radius-TWC, has grossed nearly $1.2 million at the U.S. box office, making it the highest-grossing film among the 2015 foreign-language contenders.
That U.S. take is something the team is particularly excited about, since their film didn’t do very well back home. “It’s crazy that so few people go see Austrian films in Austria,” says Fiala. “It’s not only a problem for our film.”
Adds Franz: “There’s a milestone of 10,000 viewers that ensures you get funding for your next film in Austria. With the Oscar submission, we crossed that benchmark, because it attracted attention again in Austria. The Americans are marketing masters.”
Mommy tells the unnerving story of twins who are traumatized when their mother, played by Susanne Wuest, returns home from surgery with a bandaged face. After a while, the boys begin to suspect that the person underneath the bandages may not be their mother after all.
The filmmakers say viewers have disagreed about exactly what genre the film belongs to. “Some say it is a psychological thriller, others call it a horror film, others say it’s an art film,” Franz says with a laugh. “One Austrian journalist called it a psychological-terror-chamber drama. I liked that best.”
Fiala says that the only rule they followed was “we tried to make a good film that we ourselves would like to see in the cinema.”
Of course, the fact that the film is talked about in horror terms could handicap it in its quest for an Oscar, since the foreign-language category tends to favor earnest dramas. But horror shouldn’t be discounted so quickly, since, as Franz says, “Horror films mostly are about death, loss, disease and things that traumatize people. They focus on existential issues. It’s very superficial to say they don’t touch on important issues.”
When the filmmakers learned Austria had selected their film as the country’s Oscar submission, they say, “We toasted with Bloody Marys.” And if it doesn’t secure a nom, Franz adds, “I get up [to watch] the Oscars every year. And if we don’t get nominated, I’ll still do that this year.”
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