[Movie Review] GOODNIGHT MOMMY (2022)
Remakes are a tricky business, especially when the original film has such a massive grip on its intended audience. Presented with the knowledge that audiences were getting an American remake of 2014’s Goodnight Mommy, many online were immediately dismissive. The original was incredibly impactful, infused with tension, slowly building dread, and childlike cruelty. Director Matt Sobel’s version of GOODNIGHT MOMMY aims for something different with mixed success. It is unlikely to satisfy fans of the original, however, in part due to creative decisions made.

The film’s premise is about the same. Twin brothers, Elias and Lukas, (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti) are dropped off by their dad at their mother’s (Naomi Watts) country home. They are shocked when they meet her, though. Her face is covered in bandages. She has had recent cosmetic surgery. But the twins realize something is up. There are too many abnormalities in her behavior. She smokes. She has new rules they must obey. She won’t sing their favorite lullaby. Soon, the idea that this woman is not their mother takes root, and things escalate beyond their control.

Sobel and screenwriter Kyle Warren went into this remake with the intention of reframing the story and re-interpret its meaning. For the most part, they have succeeded in their goal. Shifting the focus onto the characters rather than building the ominous tone that underlined the original moves this interation of GOODNIGHT MOMMY into a more psychological drama realm. There’s a psychological tug of war between all three parties and at the center of it all is poor Elias. Full of ramping fear and paranoia, Cameron Crovetti’s performance hits the right notes.

That said, things are telegraphed early on in the film, which renders surprises tepid and – ultimately – makes things predictable to the audience. Shifting the character focus primarily on Elias is fine and dandy. However, the levels we see of Elias onscreen do little but skim the surface, rendering this character study a bit counterproductive. Again, though, it’s not discounting Cameron Crovetti’s efforts here in his performance. But in general, the character studies are light. Naomi Watts’ mother figure has nuance, but in terms of the truly psychological, we would require more sessions with her to truly see past that mask of hers.

Photo: DAVID GIESBRECHT © 2022 Amazon Content Services LLC

The decision to remove the bulk of the violence from this remake is a ballsy one and one that will likely piss off horror fans. There’s a toe-curling scene but that’s about it. Horror is not what Sobel and Warren set out to do. It shifts the tone of the overall film, moving it further into the dramatic genre category. But it also changes how we view the boys in this iteration. The shock that we felt watching the boys of the original violently react to the woman in their house is completely removed from this adaptation. The direction provided to Cameron and Nicolas Crovetti in these moments facilitates concern and empathy from the viewer instead. Children in this iteration are sympathetic and meant to be pitied. With Naomi Watts’s more nuanced, complicated mother figure, this sympathy is further intensified as Watts in this role lacks maternal charm. A necessity for this role.

Where things fall apart is in the ending. Changes are made that undercut the overwhelming impact that could have been with the big reveal. If you’ve seen the original, you know what I’m referring to. A couple of the changes make sense linking back to making Elias more sympathetic in this version and, in the grand scheme of what Sobel and Warren were gunning for, totally make sense. In a game of show and tell, unfortunately, they tell us what is happening instead of trusting the audience to figure out the mystery. And it’s not like there weren’t already clues interwoven throughout the film. Suffice it to say, the ending’s overall tragic note underwhelms.

If you’re going into this version of GOODNIGHT MOMMY expecting a carbon copy of the original, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re expecting violence, you’ll also be disappointed. This isn’t that kind of film. Knowing that Sobel and Warren went into developing this film with the expectation of playing with genre, character, and tone to provide a different perspective on the story, I’d say they succeeded. Aside from the ending, which is underwhelming in its more expositional wrap-up, it is an okay film. What tension there is doesn’t hit that boiling point of its predecessor and this is one of those films where, if you know the story ahead of time, it’s difficult for any real impact to be made. GOODNIGHT MOMMY light edition, this most certainly is.

GOODNIGHT MOMMY will be released on September 16, 2022, on Prime Video.

Sarah Musnicky
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