[Interview] Matt Sobel for GOODNIGHT MOMMY
GOODNIGHT MOMMY l Prime Video
In GOODNIGHT MOMMY, when twin brothers (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti) arrive at their mother’s (Naomi Watts) country home to discover her face covered in bandages – the result, she explains, of recent cosmetic surgery – they immediately sense that something doesn’t add up. She sets strange new house rules, smokes in her bathroom, and secretly rips up a drawing they gave her – things their loving mother would never do. As her behavior grows increasingly bizarre and erratic, a horrifying thought takes root in the boys’ minds: The sinking suspicion that the woman beneath the gauze, who’s making their food and sleeping in the next room, isn’t their mother at all.

Prior to the film’s release, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Shannon McGrew e-chatted with director Matt Sobel, where they discussed everything from remaking the original Austrian film, the neutral approach to the aesthetic, and more.

Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Matt. To start things off, I’m sure you are a fan of the original so what made you fall in love with it to the point of wanting to make an English language remake?

Matt Sobel: I had seen the original when it came out and I was a fan of [it]. The idea of doing another version of it was not mine. It came to me from a producing company called Animal Kingdom. I initially said that I did not think I was the right person for this job. I’m not a big fan of remakes that are done for audiences who just don’t want to read subtitles. I thought the original was a successful film and I did not really see a reason to remake it. So, I initially passed. But it was in conversation with a friend of mine, Kyle Warren, who would eventually become the writer of the film, where we realized that there might be a path toward a different kind of remake. [I]n our minds [it would be] less about directly translating the Austrian version to English and more about transcribing a melody from one key to another.

While keeping the structure of the notes intact changes the tone of the piece, we started to try and figure out ways to take the elemental plot of the original and shape it so that it could focus on themes that were interesting to us that we thought could be new and not part of the original film, perhaps even a different genre than the original film [and instead] much more like a play. If they were to re-stage “The Taming of the Shrew” and switch all the genders, that would take on a new meaning in light of the text of that play. We were trying to think [are] there ways that this story could be reshaped to mean something else? And that [the] theme that was most important to us is about the universal human need to forever be the heroes or the victims of our own life stories and never the villains, and the ways in which we’ll twist reality and lie to ourselves to make sure that that’s always the case. So while I saw the original film as a movie about a boy who couldn’t bear to be alone, I see our film as being about a boy who can’t bear to be at fault. All of the differences between our films, I think kind of spun out of that central distinction.

Going deeper into that, what was important for you to bring from the original film and what other ways did you want to make your film different?

Matt Sobel: I saw the other film as a standalone piece of art that had a very compelling story that we wanted to draw from. A lot of large differences spun out of that central point that I already mentioned. I feel like the original is a story about three people and our movie’s a story about a boy and we see the world through his perspective. There are a lot of different ways in which the film was shot and different ways in which the tone perhaps feels more heightened in our film at certain points. That all comes from this idea of there being a boy who is living in a harsh reality that is too harsh for him to accept. And rather than [accepting that], invents a kind of nightmarish, somewhat heightened fantasy about what’s actually going on.

NICHOLAS CROVETTI, NAOMI WATTS, and CAMERON CROVETTI star in GOODNIGHT MOMMY

I really want to talk about the aesthetic of the film. I loved how bright and airy the film looked as well as the use of neutral color tones. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration behind that?

Matt Sobel: Our production designer, Mary Colston, came up with this idea of what is going to be the most fun environment to completely destroy and upend. She was like, what about hippie chic goop mom and I was like, sure! I did not at the time have a lot of reference for what goop mom meant but she showed me all of these images and was like what if this woman is healthy, earthy, holistic but it’s a total lie because she can’t heal herself. It just totally undercuts that idea, so we went with that.

[T]he idea that I brought was that I wanted the spaces to have really dramatically different… like I wanted mother’s bedroom to feel very dramatically different than the downstairs, which is open and inviting and airy. I was like, mother’s bedroom should feel like a hospital room where someone’s dying slowly and it should be very dark and it should be like this festering wound that hasn’t been allowed to breathe. It makes you feel gross when you go in and it feels clammy. Everything in her room is painted in varying degrees of dark green and purple, which Mary always said was like bruise coloring. Dark curtains and a lot of plates of unfinished food and stuff, it’s very den-like. And the same goes for the barn, which we wanted to be very dark inside for this visual representation of the theme of sunlight being an antiseptic, and these spaces such as the mother’s bedroom and the barn having been purposely shielded from this cleansing antiseptic light.

The film stars Naomi Watts and the Crovetti twins. What was the casting process like and were there specific things you were looking for? Additionally, it’s always said that kids are the hardest to work with. Did you find that to be true?

Matt Sobel: Working with the kids was so easy cause they were just so professional. I came with this arsenal of tricks and stuff for working with kids cause I’ve worked with a lot of kids. I really didn’t have to do anything differently than I would with an adult actor. They were really astoundingly on it. We purposefully did not tell them the end of the movie and they didn’t watch the original. They didn’t know what was actually going on. We gave them scripts until the last week of shooting that ended on page 85 and then said, “To be continued.” Everybody on set knew that we were not to discuss what happens after that or what happened before the story started with them. It became a game…they had all these guesses and they kept coming to me with different guesses. And I was like nope, nope, nope. That was really fun.

As for casting mother and what we were looking for, we wanted someone who was going to be able to navigate all of these instances where we are purposely supposed to misunderstand her, while still keeping a level of humanity that in hindsight will invite us to reapply all of this new information that we have and hopefully understand some of these previously unintelligible choices and actions she’s making. I’m a huge Naomi Watts fan. Mulholland Drive is one of my all-time favorite movies and I really thought that her performance in 21 Grams was spectacular. I thought it was raw and so upsetting. She was our first choice.

What do you want people to know who are coming to this story for the first time and/or those who are already familiar with the original?

Matt Sobel: I think that what I would like them to take away from this is a good conversation starter. I think that this is a psychological thriller with a lot on its mind. Whether the themes be political, because I do think there are some political themes in here, or familial because there’s obviously a lot about family drama and family strife. I am a big fan of films that move like thrillers but have a lot to say. I’m a huge fan of Get Out and also The Babadook. I would invite people to come to this with an open mind that yes, it seems to be a psychological thriller but there are some real themes going on here that are larger than what meets the eye. I would invite them to lean in, watch closely, and discuss afterward with their friends. There’s a lot underneath the surface.

GOODNIGHT MOMMY is now available to stream on Prime Video. For more on the film, check out our review here.

All images credited to David Giesbrecht © 2022 Amazon Content Services LLC

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