Co-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s 2014 Austrian chiller, Goodnight Mommy was one of the best foreign-language horror movies ever made in recent memory. I figured it was a bad idea when Amazon Studios decided to turn this into an American remake. But Matt Sobel (2015’s Take Me to the River) manages to surprise me otherwise with a decent and well-acted version, even though the movie lacks the icy-cold malevolence and ambiguity of the original.
Kyle Warren, whose screenwriting credits include TV’s The Mysteries of Laura and Lethal Weapon, pretty much follows the narrative beats of the original. Naomi Watts plays the celebrity mother, who lives in a remote country home and has bandages around her face following cosmetic surgery. Her ex-husband (Peter Hermann) drops their twin sons, Elias (Cameron Crovetti) and Lukas (Nicholas Crovetti) off to live with their mother instead.
However, the twin brothers find something odd about their mother such as not singing them their favourite bedtime lullaby. She even tossed away Elias’ crayon family drawing and at one point, slapped one of them in the face as a result of being disobedient. Her increasingly erratic and distant behaviour prompted the brothers to think she might not be their mother.
The 2022 version of Goodnight Mommy has a few worthwhile moments. Sobel does an adequate job sustaining the ominous dread and paranoia throughout the movie with the help of Alexander Dynan’s atmospheric cinematography. The bizarre dream sequences, particularly the one involving a shedding skin evoke an escalating sense of eerie quality. Some of the set pieces are worth mentioning as well — the scene where Elias peeped at his mother dancing seductively in her underwear in front of the mirror while Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You” played loudly in the background comes to mind.
Casting Naomi Watts is a nice move and she delivers an overall engaging performance, even though she spends most of the time having her face heavily obscured with bandages. Kudos also go to the real-life Crovetti brothers (best known for their roles in HBO’s Big Little Lies) for their equally standout turns as twins, Elias and Lukas.
Those who have seen the original Goodnight Mommy would remember the disturbing twist at the end but Sobel and Warren decided to take the movie in a different direction. The kind that is more grounded in a trauma-centric reality rather than replicating the equivocal nature of the original. This, in turn, dilutes the otherwise effective build-up of tension and suspense before the eventual big reveal. Not to mention it somehow softens the weird and bleak tone of the movie.
Goodnight Mommy is currently streaming on Prime Video.