Queen Of American Horror Remakes Naomi Watts Can’t Salvage A Forgettable Redo

Dec 19, 2022

If you’ve seen the original, there’s little point in watching “Goodnight Mommy,” out now on Prime Video. Yes, that 2014 film did not feature a performance by Naomi Watts as the mother who is tortured by her twin sons, but that’s about the only added bonus. This “Goodnight Mommy” Enligh-Language redo, from director Matt Sobel (“Take Me to the River”) and writer Kyle Warren, is strictly for those who haven’t experienced the chilling Austrian original from filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala and are also weary of subtitles. And if you should like this version, you would be cheating yourself by not seeing where it all came from. Worse, the 2022 redo is sanitized and family-friendly in comparison to the frightening horrors of the original.
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The story is relatively the same, including the twins’ names: Elias and Lucas (played here by Cameron Crovetti and Nicholas Crovetti) are dropped off by their father to stay at their mother’s isolated home (Naomi Watts), a famous actress. However, she’s not looking much like herself, given the bandages wrapped around her face, making her look particularly freaky. And because she looks so strange, Elias and Lukas begin to fear the worst—that this person claiming to be their mother actually is not and that she has some evil plan. Plus, their mother’s headshot has her with green eyes. The eyes on this person in their house are blue. Something is not right.
READ MORE: Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala’s Stylishly Sick ‘Goodnight Mommy’ [Karlovy Vary Review]
The twins decide to act, their tight bond growing even closer as they conspire against whoever that figure pretending to be their mother actually is. The aggressive actions of the brothers—at one point, Elias sneaks up on her while taking a bath and pulls at her face mask—create even more tension and fear between everyone. Elias is the braver of the two, while Lucas stands behind him, cheering him on, telling Elias not to budge when the mother makes a plea for help after they eventually tie her up with duct tape. The mother’s own actions don’t help matters, as when she uses a crowbar to break into their bedroom and chastise them earlier in the movie. The terror is accentuated with a shot that looks up at her as she hacks away at the doorknob, just like in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” 
The changes here, and what is emphasized by the script, reflect poorly on standards for American horror in terms of what creates terror. The score’s violins desperately skitter to make fear the scene’s obvious direction; dream sequences here are not handled with much tact, as if it needed monstrous visuals more for its trailer to make newcomers think this is what isn’t. It’s weird to say that one sorely misses the sadism from the original movie, which is nastier and unsettling than the twins’ games here. But it has a visceral purpose to this tale in creating discomfort, trauma, and an overall gripping experience within its assured, cold-blooded visual style. This movie, instead, is softer around the edges with a synonymous style; it’s not productive in the place of the stuff it leaves out.
It’s likely that this movie wouldn’t have been as effective as it struggles to be without Naomi Watts, one of the greatest living surrogates for profound experiences of terror, torture, and ruthless exhaustion (she also seems to be the unofficial Queen of U.S. remakes of foreign horror classics; see, “The Ring,” “Funny Games” and now “Goodnight Mommy”). She gives a sound performance here as a mother who makes some vicious mistakes on her own, not understanding the damage she does while in her own frustrations. In quieter moments that have her reaching that terrifying realization, it’s just the right amount of fear before over-blowing its impact. Somewhere in this performance is the core of a mother who raised these kids but has lost her own sense of parenting and of self. She keeps us tethered to how this story is a freaky tragedy, first and foremost.
What this “Goodnight Mommy” does with Watts’ mother character and the two twins is a little surprising, at least in how they change up the ending. It’s still a very tough comparison to beat, given the emotional brutality of the 2014’s finale, now repackaged here with wistful dramatics. It’s one of many passages in which maybe people who are new to this story might be amused, but they won’t be frightened; I’m not certain they’ll be moved, either. Maybe the worst thing this forgettable remake does is associate “Goodnight Mommy” with being soft and dull when the original is absolutely something much more severe and scarring. [C-]

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