Since 1963, the Austrian birthrate has halved. You can't blame Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz's new thriller, Goodnight Mommy, for the trend, but it sure isn't helping. The quiet creepshow follows eleven-year-old twins Lukas and Elias (Lukas and Elias Schwarz, great), who suspect their mom (Susanne Wuest) wishes they hadn't been born. Though the film avoids exposition, from the few crumbs we can snatch, Mother (the only name we get) is a divorced TV game show hostess panicking about her looks. She's shuttled the boys from Vienna to the countryside so she can recover in privacy from plastic surgery. Mother instructs the kids to tell visitors she's ill and then retreats into her dark bedroom with her bruises obscured in gauze.
But is that her under the bandages? Would their real mom refuse to speak to Lukas? To give him dinner? Lukas is certain this mummied monster is a fake, and Elias is unable to say otherwise. Even if she unwrapped herself, what new face would they see? Since we've never met her -- and Goodnight Mommy smartly doesn't do flashbacks — we can't be sure. At night they huddle in their bunk beds and listen to a cassette of their real mom singing them to sleep.
Much of this doesn't make sense. Goodnight Mommy operates on kid logic: random obsessions, athletic digressions, subplots that wander away. Halfway through the movie, the boys stumble upon a cave packed with human skulls. You might expect a twist -- but they never go back. The film is more concerned with tone than tension. Nothing adds up -- it's a well-crafted cheat with a killer punch.