Fact: Identical twin children in movies are creepy. (In real life, too, if we’re being honest, but never mind.) “Goodnight Mommy,” a quietly alarming thriller from Austria, puts this truism to good use immediately, starting with scenes of young Elias and Lukas (played by Elias and Lukas Schwarz) running through cornfields (!) and whispering secrets to each other.
They live in an isolated country home with their mother (Susanne Wuest), who has just returned from the hospital with her face in bandages. The boys think she’s … different. She plays favorites with them now, and seems to hold a grudge against one of them. They become convinced that she’s an imposter.
The unsettling lengths to which imaginative, traumatized boys will go to solve a mystery is the crux of the film. By plopping us into the story without exposition (Mom might have had cosmetic surgery, but there’s also mention of an “accident”), writer-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala keep us from being sure who’s sane or crazy, good or evil — until the end, when it all becomes heartbreakingly clear.
Alternatively, everything may become clear for you earlier than that, possibly in the film’s first 20 minutes. (The German title is “Ich seh, Ich seh” — “I See, I See.”) Not to worry. This isn’t a film that relies on its surprises, and I’m not 100 percent sure the filmmakers don’t intend us to figure it out early anyway. In that case, the story simply takes on a different kind of sad eeriness while remaining just as effective and disturbing.
B+ (1 hr., 39 min.; German with subtitles; )