Review by Cole Groth
Feel bad films are an acquired taste, and to enjoy Naomi Watts’ 2022 English-language remake of the 2014 Austrian film Goodnight Mommy, you’ll have to have both a penchant for mean-spirited films and an ability to overlook remakes that don’t add anything to the original. On its own, this horror/thriller uses its incredibly talented child actors to lead a squeamishly thrilling mystery that has too many twists and turns to be anything but an unpleasant adventure.
With a cast of only six characters, the strongest part of Goodnight Mommy is the performances given by the Crovetti twins, Cameron and Nicholas, who give it their all as Elias and Lucas. As an identical twin myself, it’s uncommon for movies to accurately portray the bond that twin brothers share, and this is where Kyle Warren’s script succeeds. Since real-life twins play the boys, it’s much easier for them to have the chemistry of the characters. Throughout the ninety-minute film, it’s up to them to solve the mystery of their mother’s sudden change. Typically, young boys are insufferable leads, but they manage to keep the energy up at moments when the story drags.
On the other end of good writing, the mother, played by Naomi Watts, is an entirely confusing character whose motivations aren’t even made clear during the convoluted ending. Watts’ performance is decent enough, but the script does not aid it in any way. Within the first fifteen minutes, the script gives away the central mystery. Instead of having the audience figure out what’s going on, it’s almost immediately laid out. What follows is 75 minutes of upsetting scenes composed of effectively-disgusting body horror or generally depressing family drama.
On a technical level, there’s not too much wrong with Goodnight Mommy. The cinematography isn’t anything special, the music doesn’t stand out, and the editing services the story reasonably. Even though these elements detract from the story, it’s hard to give any credit when there’s a blueprint given already. Remakes have a responsibility to take the source material and elevate it. Even if it means trying something new and failing, taking risks is much more important when the story isn’t new. It’s only been eight years since the original came out, so it feels insulting to release what’s mostly a glorified dub of an already existing film.
The part where most audiences will struggle to like this film is the story. This was already a controversial element of the first film, and since not much has been changed, it looks like it’ll remain one of the more controversial parts. So little information is given to the audience throughout, which makes it an effective mystery, but it all adds up to an ending that feels rushed and rather disappointing. The plot only unravels at the very end, leaving you wondering, “what was the point?” It’s a mystery for the sake of mystery. There aren’t any morals to be found, no lesson to be learned, which feels pointless.
If you’re a fan of the original, there might be enough to make this one a similarly entertaining mystery. Still, Goodnight Mommy feels like an unwarranted remake of a film with a story that wasn’t quite good enough to be remade in the first place. With some strong performances and a fast pace, I might recommend this to fans of psychological horror films. However, if you’re not looking to feel bad after watching one of the strangest mothers have a horrible bond with her children for 90 minutes, I’d give this a skip.
Goodnight Mommy lands onto Amazon Prime Video on September 16th.