Horror films have always been the exception in the Oscar conversation.
Sure, they’ve had their day: One of the most notable hardcore titles being 1974’s The Exorcist, which landed 10 nominations, including best picture and director, and wound up with wins for adapted screenplay and sound. Other titles scaring trophies into the hands of nominees included The Omen, which won composer Jerry Goldsmith best original score, while supporting actress Ruth Gordon earned an Oscar win for Rosemary’s Baby.
But put foreign film and Academy Awards in the same sentence and you really have to hit the golden-guy trivia books. Austria is looking to break any genre bias at the Oscars this year with its arthouse horror thriller from Radius, Goodnight Mommy. The film, which was acquired by Radius’ former co-chief Tom Quinn at the 2014 Venice Film Festival for a low-six figures, cleared the $1M mark yesterday after a seven-weekend run, becoming the eighth foreign-language title to do so this year. The Academy, despite its scattered history with horror fare, is taking Goodnight Mommy seriously too: They’re screening the film for members on — of all days — Halloween. Goodnight Mommy showed some awards traction three days ago when its DP Martin Gschlacht won at the European Film Awards.
Goodnight Mommy follows 9-year-old twin brothers who are waiting in their countryside home for their mother to return from cosmetic surgery. She arrives fully bandaged and unrecognizable, making the brothers realize that this might not be mom. Further heightening things around the house is the boys’ game of make-believe, which blurs the lines between reality and nightmare.
The film arrives at a time when other titles such as Radius’ It Follows ($14.7M) and Sundance Selects’ The Babadook ($951K) are smarting up the horror genre. Australian title Babadook inserted itself in the awards conversation last year when it was lauded as best first film (for director-writer Jennifer Kent) by the New York Film Critics Circle Awards. Variety’s Peter Debruge winked at Goodnight Mommy‘s kudo potential in his Venice review, calling it “a fairy tale for Dogtooth enthusiasts.” Despite its degree of violence, Dogtooth, Greece’s 2011 Oscar entry, didn’t turn too many stomachs at the Academy as it landed a foreign film nomination. Other critics, such as The Washington Post‘s Michael O’Sullivan have observed that the look of Goodnight Mommy is “gorgeous,” further propped by its “deliberate pacing and mundane, shock-free plotting” and buttoned up with a twist that will make viewers want to watch it all over again.
Goodnight Mommy has already struck a nerve in Hollywood as talent agencies clamored to sign its two co-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz. WME won out.
Released in four theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Austin on September 11 and earning a $15K PTA and a $64K opening weekend, Goodnight Mommy largely has played the art house metro track, which includes San Francisco, Washington D.C., Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Toronto, but also creeped into college towns like Amherst, MA and Madison, WI. Radius head of marketing Caroline McKenzie cut a riveting trailer that has generated 10M views across the distributor’s YouTube channel and Facebook uploads. Radius VP Distribution Elissa Federoff plans to keep Goodnight Mommy alive theatrically sans VOD in a handful of theaters as it heads into the Golden Globe and Oscar nom frame. The label boasts back-to-back feature documentary Oscar wins for 20 Feet From Stardom and last year’s Citizenfour.
“As Radius co-founder Tom Quinn relayed regarding It Follows, VOD is one of the last places an under-25 horror audience sees a film,” said Radius EVP Liza Burnett Fefferman about Goodnight Mommy‘s release. “Building the theatrical only increases the ancillary down the road.”
Some industry executives recently criticized Universal’s wide release of Legendary’s Guillermo del Toro’s lush horror pic Crimson Peak, a film that, given its premium look and cast, should have been platformed so as to grab both horror aficionados and art house denizens. Less bloody than most horror titles, Crimson Peak, which cost $55M, has made slightly north of $24M in its two weeks of release.