By: Mark Barber
Goodnight Mommy exists at the intersection between Dead Ringers and Psycho, with a little bit of Misery thrown in for good measure.
Twins Lukas and Elias (named for their actors, Lukas and Elias Schwarz) settle into their country home with their mother (Susanne Wuest), who is recovering from facial surgery after a brutal car accident. In the midst of divorce proceedings, she does not take the trauma and stress well, and begins to antagonize her boys. Concluding that this mean woman can’t possibly be their mother, they start planning a disturbing interrogation session with her.
The film’s equivocal nature is its greatest strength. Its unwillingness to present palpable, conclusive evidence to prove the mother’s true identity provides the backbone for an intense, Shyamalanesque thriller (now that The Visit has been receiving praise, one could argue that’s a positive thing once more).
Directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz (also the film’s screenwriters) masterfully suffuse mystery and dread throughout. After a hallucinatory opening, Goodnight Mommy elicits fear and confusion in its first act, as clues and backstories are tacitly conveyed visually rather than through salient exposition (indeed, up until the very end of the film, Fiala and Franz command a strong understanding of the classic “show, don’t tell” screenwriting rule). In the later acts, the mood intensifies, and the film quickly becomes a claustrophobic nightmare once the woman is held prisoner by the twins.
Balancing polarizing moods, Susanne Wuest crafts an emotionally varied performance that oscillates between aggression, sincerity, and fear. Wuest bridges what would otherwise be an awkward gap for her character arc between the first and third acts. Starting as the film’s antagonist, we are quickly forced to identify with her as she becomes the victim of her demonic twins in the third act. The Schwarz twins themselves give impressively eerie performances here. They too are efficient in smoothly transitioning from protagonist to antagonist.
Boasting strong performances by an eerie atmosphere, Goodnight Mommy is an uncompromising, chilling, and visually effective thriller.
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Mark Barber: @WorstCinephile