What would you do if, after a long absence, you visited your mother and she acted like a completely different person? That’s the dilemma facing two twin brothers in the North American remake of Goodnight Mommy.
As a fan of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (The Lodge)’s original 2014 Austrian film of the same name, it is slightly challenging to approach the remake through fresh eyes. Th 2022 iteration doesn’t offer much in the way of updates or changes, save for a minor modification to the ending, so for fans of the original, Goodnight Mommy is very much a case of “why fix what wasn’t broken?”
The reality, however, is that most viewers will likely come to writer Kyle Warren and director Matt Sobel (Brand New Cherry Flavor)’s film with fresh eyes, and in that capacity Goodnight Mommy is a serviceably creepy little thriller.
The film follows twin brothers Elias and Lucas (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti) as they are dropped off at the isolated country home of their Mother (Naomi Watts, in her third US horror remake). It’s clear from the body language and dialogue of their Father (Younger‘s Peter Hermann) that he is not welcome and that there is tension between the adults. He, as a result, is never seen again.
When the boys enter, they discover that their famous movie star mother is now an impatient, cold woman who wears a full-time (admittedly fashionable) head bandage. Mother has recently had a procedure (like a “tune up” for a car, she explains) and, as a result, there are specific rules that she wants them to follow while she heals: keep the blinds drawn, no yelling or running in the house, don’t go into Mother’s bedroom or office and, finally, stay out of the barn.
Initially Mother seems warm and welcoming, but shortly after they arrive, she rips up a hand drawn family picture of her and the twins. When Lucas (the rule breaker and instigator) goads Elias (quieter and more reserved) into exploring the barn, Mother gets irrationally angry. And her behaviour only worsens from there.
Like the original, the bulk of the film is presented through the perspective of the twins as they grow increasingly perplexed, scared and confused by Mother’s antics. There’s a heightened sense of isolation to the proceedings, not only because of the power dynamic between children and adult, but also because there is no escape from Mother’s tyranny. She demands that they don’t involve Father and even resorts to breaking their phone. When the police get involved, it only serves to ratchet up the tension, which is especially problematic given that Mother is such a recognizable, prominent figure.
Watts has the unenviable role of being an obscure antagonist (she’s always filtered through the boys’ perspective), while also being made to act behind a cloth face mask for nearly the entire run time. In that capacity, she manages to imbue Mother with a sense of malice, though not much character. Still, there are genuine moments of dread and tension, particularly one scene of child abuse involving cold water that somehow feels both visceral and muted, as though the production is holding back slightly.
If anything, the true star of the film is the house. The luxurious country abode is filled with generous open spaces and tall windows, though cinematographer Alexander Dynan (First Reformed, The Card Counter) manages to emphasize every shadow, dark crevice and reflective surface. It’s simultaneously constricted and spacious; an art-nouveau prison for the uber rich.
Casual genre fans will undoubtedly see the writing on the wall (or rather barn) well before the film’s climax, while fans of the original are apt to be left wondering about the necessity of the remake, but overall Goodnight Mommy is totally watchable. It’s not especially memorable, but it’s not bad either. At a scant 90 minutes, it’s perfectly serviceable.
- Grade for new audiences: 3.5/5
- Grade for audiences who have seen the original: 3/5
Goodnight Mommy streams on Amazon Prime on Friday, Sept 16