'Goodnight, Mommy'

HIDE AND SEEK: In 'Goodnight, Mommy,' twin brothers must spend the summer with a woman they barely recognize as their mother.

We're told that fairy tales help us reconcile children to truths they cannot bear: the good mommy who loves us and the bad mommy who scolds us have to be two different people.

Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz's glacial, oblique Hansel and Hansel story Goodnight, Mommy (Ich Seh, Ich Seh) concerns a pair of nine-year-old Austrian twins (Lukas and Elias Schwarz). The boys are so identical that when they fight, their noses bleed in the exact same spot. They're first enjoying, then enduring, a rural summer in a brutally modern lake house. Their mother (Susanne Wuest) is a TV game show host, newly separated from her husband; she's convalescing from some sort of surgery. Clues, from images on the corkboard in her room, suggest she just endured a major facelift. The visible patches of her face are oiled with ointment; bandages pull her face into a jack o'lantern shape. When she strips, this alarmingly thin woman's flesh is a bruise-colored ochre. And she's in a real mood. She lays down the law to these two unruly kids, in what becomes a war of wills between the mother and her sons.

Before delivering the unlikely twist ending, there isn't a surface Fiala and Franz haven't considered—the nearby town is empty except for some crazed Tom Waits-like villiage idiot—feverishly pumping his accordion and yodeling at anyone who'll listen; at the church, where the children flee for sanctuary, there's a weird sexton who gobbles like Dennis Weaver in Touch of Evil. A muddy, dried up lake undulates like stale porridge when the kids romp across it. Even the wallpaper, crawling with some Ikea version of a pattern of ants, is out to get us.

But the class war-fomenting angle keeps this movie hidebound. It starts out with too-bright Technicolor footage of the actual Von Trapp family (as honored in The Sound of Music), warbling through a Brahms lullaby—it's so on the nose, it's as if they commenced an American horror movie with the National Anthem and Old Glory. The Michael Haneke-meets-the- Katzenjammer Kids fussiness of the director's vision is like being menaced by a nattily attired, two-foot tall dominatrix. And then the tools of torture come out. It is, as they say, where the inevitable becomes evitable; the high art style can't conceal the delivery system of low and uninteresting horror.

Goodnight, Mommy

R; 100 Mins.

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