ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

After undergoing cosmetic facial surgery, a mother (Susanne Wuest) returns home to her twin boys Elias (Elias Schwarz) and Lukas (Lukas Schwarz) at their isolated lakeside house. Though it seems to be a welcome reunion at first, the boys are unnerved by her heavily bandaged appearance and even more unnerved by the strange behavior she begins to exhibit. As the behavior worsens, the boys start to suspect the worst that the woman underneath the bandages may not be their mother.

Reviewing a film like Goodnight Mommy (whose original German title Ich seh Ich seh, which translates to “I see I see”, suits the film much more than the American title) is tricky for me, ’cause the less you know going in, the better. Obviously, you can take that as a recommendation, see the movie first and then come back to read this review. Either way, I’m gonna do my best to disclose as little as I can for you.

Also, do not see the trailer prior to your viewing. For starters, it reveals more than it should, but mainly, the advertising team’s pumping it up as the “scariest trailer ever seen” (they must not see that many trailers), and like last year’s The Babadook, it’s being marketed as something it really isn’t.

In some ways, Goodnight Mommy shares similarities to both last year’s The Bababook and this year’s Ex Machina. Like Ex Machina, it boasts a minimalist style where the sleekly designed, industrial-like home becomes a character unto itself and certain home decor details will give you clues to what’s going on provided you’re paying attention. And like The Babadook, it deftly challenges viewers to reconsider their alliances with key characters.

Yet while is shares some stylistic touches, Goodnight Mommy stands as its own film, one that is darker than either of those two films (which, if you seen either Ex Machina or The Babadook, is saying something).

Save a brief shoehorned scene involving some visiting Red Cross workers (meant to remind us that there’s an outside world, but the film touches on that a tad more effectively in a couple other scenes), co-writers/directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala have crafted a near-perfect psychological thriller that builds and builds the tension beautifully. The score and dialogue are both minimal, but the film doesn’t rely on heavy-handed thriller tricks, instead hinging on an atmosphere, aided by an excellent use of natural sound and Martin Gschlacht’s cinematography, that creates a palpable sense of unease as it transitions from haunting to brutally shocking.

The violence, while shocking, doesn’t devolve into torture porn. It’s not quite the violence, which shouldn’t be downplayed though some critics have over-hyped the grotesqueness, but how invested we are in these characters that makes what happens to them so startling.

The performances, though understated, are exceptional. Reportedly, a number of the scenes between real-life identical twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz were improvised, and if so, kudos to not just them, but Franz and Fiala for working so well with these two. Drawing out an effective scripted performance from a child is difficult enough, much less one that is improvised. Between Susanne Wuest and the Schwarz brothers, it’s a strongly performed game of tug o’ war with our sympathies that keeps us on edge all the way to the film’s thoroughly satisfying final shot.

Like most small, deliberately paced psychological thrillers, Goodnight Mommy isn’t for all tastes, and thanks to the misleading and far too revealing “Americanized” trailer, mainstream horror audiences will most likely find themselves disappointed that it isn’t as “scary” as it’s being sold as. That said, Goodnight Mommy is a taut psychological thriller fueled by a cold and dreadful atmosphere unnerving enough to give both mothers and sons second thoughts about their bond. The dark, disturbing mood alone is good enough for the film to rely on, but its examinations of family and trust add a strong emotional punch that heightens the tension even more.

I give Goodnight Mommy an A (★★★½).

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