When you think of twins, the peaceful countryside and a beautifully-decorated home (if too perfect looking to be realistic), you don’t think of psychopaths and horror. But this is exactly what Austrian filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala had in mind when they shot Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh Ich seh in its native language), this tale of modern horror.
Identical 9-year-old twins Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) are preoccupied with doing normal pre-pubescent things such as playing outside and generally running amok, and if they feel trapped in their new countryside home where they’ve now taken up residence after their mother (Susanne Wuest) recovers from facial surgery, it becomes increasingly obvious as the film goes on. The Mother’s face is covered (entire head included) and only her eyes are ever seen throughout most of the film and as she admonishes her sons constantly for playing or making noise and breaking the peace, she becomes increasingly harsh with them. You can feel the tension in the air as she continuously favors Elias over Lukas.
Unsettling is the feeling that something is horrifically wrong. The house is immaculately decorated, everything perfect and undisturbed, the furniture and wall decor at an exact angle that would please even the most obsessive-compulsive person. The relationship between mother and sons isn’t what it used to be if we’re to believe Elias and Lukas and the heightening suspicion that Mother isn’t at all who she says she is sends the twins into malevolence in order to find out the truth about her, especially after finding a picture of her with another woman with a very similar physique and the exact same clothing. But by the time the finale comes around, whose side are we really on?
Goodnight Mommy is increasingly unnerving and meant to completely throw off even the most die-hard horror fan, but the film is less horror than it is a psychological trip through clues, truths, lies, fantasy and reality. The first half of the film is exceptional at building the tension, like a slow-burn waiting to engulf its characters in its flames. There are two opposing yet very similar perspectives running throughout the film. It’s definitely a film to be seen more than once if you want to catch all the nuances that it lays out right before your eyes. There is one plot point that makes itself clear early on and somewhat thwarts the ending, but the filmmakers are more than happy to play with your mind in other ways. The kind of horror you have to wait out in order to reap its benefits, Goodnight Mommy isn’t necessarily clever as it is a movie that has no issue exploring familial tension in an otherwise serene countryside setting. And it also sees fit to take it one step further in the horror genre’s continuing tales of terrifying children.