Starring: Elias Schwarz, Lukas Schwarz, Susanne Wuest
Director: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz
Running Time: 99 mins
Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh ich seh) is an Austrian film about two twin brothers who move into a new home in the countryside with their mother, who is undergoing recovery after facial cosmetic surgery, but in the process, she has become someone that her own sons cannot recognise.
Eerie, disturbing, unpredictable and very, very dark, Goodnight Mommy is the sort of film that you just can’t take your eyes off, no matter how intense it gets. Stunningly directed, brilliantly acted and ingeniously written at every single moment, this is one of the most nail-biting, enthralling and intensely disturbing movies you’ll ever see, but one you’ll not forget in a long time.
Let’s start with what makes this film so truly powerful: the story. Centring on two twin brothers living in an isolated house with their mother, it starts off in an eerie, albeit seemingly innocent fashion. However, as the opening stages progress, we discover that the mother is acting very strangely towards her two sons, coldly and often aggressively talking to them, ignoring them and even locking them in their room for long periods as punishment.
That alone is enough to terrify anyone, the thought that the person for whom most people is their closest source of protection could be a monster living inside their own house. Creating a deeply unsettling and dark atmosphere as it begins to emerge that there is something seriously wrong with the family dynamic, it’s a terrifying start to the film.
And what’s more is that the mother spends her days with her face covered by a terrifying organisation of bandages that come together to give a sinister grin that seems to take over the person that she once was.
However, what the story does so brilliantly from the start is plant the seeds of so many mysteries in your head. Whilst it sets up the characters and setting perfectly, it’s impossible to know what’s really going on, whether there’s a deep psychological reason for the mother’s behaviour, whether the children may actually deserve their punishments, and what happened just before the beginning of the film to get everybody into this terrifying situation.
All of that remains a big mystery throughout the film, but with so many ideas and possibilities spinning around your head, it makes for an even more unpredictable and tumultuous viewing experience. And as the story gets stranger and darker with every new twist and turn, it turns into one of the most truly entrancing films I’ve seen in a very long time.
But it’s not just the story that makes Goodnight Mommy so intense, because directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz do an incredible job throughout. Above all, the film’s eeriness is its strongest point, often playing out in almost total silence, with no real musical score, making it an incredibly unsettling watch at every second.
The isolated setting works wonders for the horror side of the story, whilst the interior shots of the house shrouded in dim light and darkness even in the middle of a sunny day, as well as a number of hugely unnerving pieces of artwork that plant yet more seeds of doubt and mystery in your head, give the film that powerful and pulsating sense of quiet that’s so difficult to really pull off as perfectly as is done here.
And finally, we come to the performances. The film’s exceedingly quiet nature, along with the fact that one of its characters spends the majority of the runtime hidden behind a mask of bandages, isn’t always the place to see great acting, but that’s not the case with Goodnight Mommy.
Elias and Lukas Schwarz are fantastic as the two brothers, with both an unsettling quality to their own characters as well as the emotional trauma of being effectively hunted by their own mother in their own house, whilst Susanne Wuest gives a truly terrifying turn as the mother herself, with just the right balance of a pure horror monster and some human qualities that lead you into all sorts of questions about the character.
Overall, I was stunned by Goodnight Mommy. It’s not only an amazingly thrilling and unpredictable film, but one with a deeply unsettling and dark story that puts it beyond a simple horror movie. Expertly directed throughout and featuring three very strong performances, it’s a film that will shock and scare you whilst keeping you firmly enthralled in its story, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.7.