CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS
One of the problems with writing about, or even talking about, movies is the avoidance of spoilers. It's not enough to keep the big plot twist a secret: these days it's bad form to even suggest there is a big plot twist. In this post-Shyamalan era we've become so used to the idea of there being a major reveal that we end up watching every movie trying to figure what that reveal might be, even when there isn't one. So it's very difficult to discuss a film like Goodnight Mommy (original title Ich Seh Ich Seh) without at least hinting at the presence of a Rosebud or a Keyser Soze moment. In any case it's definitely one of those films where the less you know, the better, and going in totally cold is the ideal.
For the most part it's a three-hander with a simple set-up: during an idyllic summer in the countryside, twin brothers Elias and Lukas (Elias and Lukas Schwarz) gradually come to suspect that the bandaged woman claiming to be their mother (Susanne Wuest) may be an impostor. If so, where's their real mother? Is she really their mother who's just come away from plastic surgery (either as a result of cosmetic procedures to enhance her TV career, or reconstruction following an accident)? Or - potential spoilers ahoy - is there something much darker and more sinister going on?
The film morphs from "what's wrong with Mommy?" to "what's wrong with those kids?", but it does it so neatly and so smartly that you don't initially realise the whole movie has shifted a whole 180 degrees on its axis. Even if you do guess what's actually going on - as I did eventually, and probably a long time after most people cottoned on - it doesn't matter too much as directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz turn the thriller screws pretty tight in the second half, occasionally offsetting the tension with some odd comedy asides (such as the unexpected arrival of a pair of Red Cross collectors who casually wander around the house looking for donations).
It looks wonderful ("shot in glorious 35mm", according to the last line of the end credit crawl), building the tension superbly and opting for an unsettling tone rather than outright violence; the BBFC have given it a 15 certificate and their warning notes "strong violence" and "scenes of torture", but it's hardly a gorefest. Aside from a few painful moments (particularly one involving superglue), it's more interested in the personal and emotional rather than the visually visceral. And it works: I enjoyed Goodnight Mommy far more than I was expecting and, barring a few wonky moments around the ending, it's one of the best releases of the year so far. Such a pity we've had to wait so long for it.