Goodnight Mommy, a brilliantly sinister horror film in the recent art-house mold of The Babadook and It Follows, has a premise that cracks like the whip of a devil’s tail. In the countryside of Austria, a TV actress (Susanne Wuest) comes home after a facial procedure—and her 9-year-old twin boys (Lukas and Elias Schwarz) suspect that she’s not their mother anymore. She even looks like an alien, with only her unsmiling mouth and bloodshot eyes visible through a cocoon-head of gauze. After one boy asks to see her birthmark, she forces him to repeat “You’re my mother” 10 times. When her bandages come off, revealing a Stepford-smooth face, the kids become more convinced that the woman is an impostor. They find an old photo in a scrapbook of their mom sitting with what looks like a doppelgänger. Google-image sleuthing results in more suspicion. They intend to get some answers.
Written and directed by first-timers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala with a stylistic nod to the sick Funny Games by fellow Austrian Michael Haneke, the movie is a mad, malevolent adventure through the minds of its three characters and the house they inhabit. A magnifying glass, superglue, and a mason jar full of beetles provide ammunition in the war that commences between mother and sons. There is a twist at the end that some viewers will spot coming, but it gingers the plot with poignancy more than gimmickry. And the subtext of cosmetic surgery as a mutating force is a killer metaphor. It’ll be curious to see if Hollywood, in the inevitable remake, will dare to touch those nerves. A