Goodnight Mommy (Ich seh Ich seh) is an intensely disturbing—though slightly uneven—film. Not scary, per se, but enjoyably flesh-crawling in places. If you like that sort of thing.
In rural Austria, two twin boys—Elias and Lukas—wait for their mother to come home from the hospital after undergoing reconstructive surgery on her face. Once she returns, however, the boys start to be suspicious of her. She’s colder, stricter, and more withdrawn than she was before she left. Gradually, the boys become convinced that she is not their mother but something that has replaced their mother. Thus begins a brutal battle of wills.
For the first two thirds of the runtime, Goodnight Mommy is a tensely staged psychological horror film, languid in its pacing and elegant in its development of atmosphere. For the final third, however, it is a straight-up torture film. And while both cinematic styles are highly affecting in different ways, I’m not sure that the tonal shift entirely works. There was a powerfully nerve-wracking sense of apprehension that permeated the film’s first hour, which dissipated once it became clear where the chips were going to fall.
Moreover, the plot depended in part on a twist that—for me—was apparent within the first five minutes. This wasn’t true for all of my movie-viewing compatriots, though, so I’m hesitant to rank it as a negative. At the end of the day, I have seen so many horror films that their standard tropes tend to leap out at me. As a result, I may not be the best judge of their general effectiveness. I think that, if you don’t anticipate the twist, the film probably has a more powerful denouement.
At any rate, Goodnight Mommy is—by and large—a very sophisticated flick. The filmmakers’ attention to detail, from the marvelous set design to the construction of an awesomely eerie soundscape, was refreshingly cohesive, and the acting was superb.
I’ll definitely be adding it to my “Horror of Motherhood” syllabus.