Goodnight Mommy's quiet horror screams dread

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      Starring Susanne Wuest and Lukas and Elias Schwarz. In German with English subtitles. Rated R. Now playing.

      Goodnight Mommy opens with a gentle lullaby—Brahms' "Cradle Song", to be exact—but that's it for sweetness and light in this unnerving portrait of familial distrust and paranoia.

      We first meet twin brothers Lukas and Elias (identical twins Lukas and Elias Schwarz) as they're playing hide-and-seek in a cornfield, just seeming like regular nine-year-olds. But Lucas keeps disappearing—either in a pitch-black cave or under the dark surface of a lake—leaving Elias worried and calling out for him.

      When mom (Susanne Wuest) returns to the family's ultra-modern house in the Austrian woods her head and face are wrapped in bandages, and you're not sure whether she's been in a horrible car accident or just recovering from cosmetic surgery. The boys aren't too sure about her, either, doubting whether she's even their real mother. She does act pretty strange, wandering off into the woods and removing her clothes and peeling off the bandages and going all Jacob's Ladder on our asses with that freaky blurred-out head-shaking.

      No wait—that was just a nightmare.

      As the action slowly unfolds in unsettling quietude the twins are shown to be pretty strange birds themselves. They collect huge Madagascar hissing cockroaches and place one on their mom while she's sleeping, so we get to see that old bug-in-the-mouth trick. But waking up with a case of roach-throat is the least of mommy's problems.

      Similar in tone to last year's creepy sleeper hit The BabadookGoodnight Mommy reels you in with its anguished portrayal of a strained mother/child relationship headed for an ugly end. Writer-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz craft an absorbing, lustrously shot tale of domestic dread and coax near-perfect performances from the three leads.

      It's the most unsettling identical-twin psycho-thriller I've seen since The Other—and that was back in '72!

      Follow Steve Newton on Twitter @earofnewt