In 2015 the U.S. was introduced to a shocking, creepy, under-your-skin horror/drama called GOODNIGHT MOMMY. The Austrian film took horror fans by storm with its stellar cast, creepy cinematography, and surprising storyline. Is it a masterpiece? Maybe not— it was an art-house hit that was part of the “Elevated Horror” (I. Hate. That. Term!) boom of the mid-20-teens. And… in true ‘Murica fashion, Hollywood producers had the bright idea to remake it and try to catch that same lightning in another bottle. They failed. Instead, we got a toned-down slog that’s been so heavily neutered of its source material that it could almost make the cut as a Lifetime movie.
GOODNIGHT MOMMY is about a pair of twins (BIG LITTLE LIES’ Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti) who visit their mother (Naomi Watts) after quite some time apart. Upon reuniting, they’re shocked to see her face covered in bandages and her disposition toward them cold and unfeeling, and begin to suspect she may not be who she says she is. While admittedly biased toward the original film, I watched this remake with objective, eager eyes. I wanted it to work.
Watts, who’s become a horror-remake regular of sorts, takes a while to get into the character— at least, that’s what I thought. Initially, I felt she was miscast and not hitting the points she needed to, but then I realized the filmmakers were the ones not hitting the points they needed to. It feels as though the script assumes you know the premise already—that is: it isn’t Watts missing beats, it’s the script. She gives a great performance despite not being given very interesting material, and while she comes off as creepy and icy, she is not nearly frightening enough throughout the film. She’s also too well-known an actress for what this role should be and for the character to be effectively pulled off. It’s not her fault.
The Crovetti Twins are terrific. It is their scenes that really drive the film, and their ability to carry it is very impressive. Cameron, as Elias, is sincere and clever, while Nicholas, as Lucas, is simultaneously sweet and cunning. While they do a very good job, this American version has robbed them of some of the most memorable scenes in the original film. Again, I’m unable to refrain from comparing the two, as this one feels so toned down, lacking any sort of “oomph.”
The issue with this remake is that the biggest plot points are hit, but all of the shocking, gruesome things that occur between them have been cut, turning a harsh, mean-spirited horror tale into a flaccid family drama with a creepy score. There’s something to be said for taking a more psychological approach, but the target was just… missed. The addition of a couple of “horror moments” ends up being tired tropes we’ve seen a million times. Also, the ending lands lazily. I sense it may have been poor editing, but after an hour and twenty minutes of not knowing what the hell is going on, the last ten minutes should have packed a punch. That’s one thing the filmmakers got right: a tight, 92-minute runtime.
The director, Matt Sobel, delivered one of my favorite horror shows from 2021, Netflix’s BRAND NEW CHERRY FLAVOR. For me, that series was an improvement upon the book from which it’s based, so I had high hopes he might at least be able to keep up with GOODNIGHT MOMMY’S source material, but alas…this isn’t a shot-for-shot remake, nor are there any bold choices being made. Instead, it’s like watching the original on network TV after it’s been censored for content—content that would have effectively upped the stakes for both the characters and the audience.
This is just the latest in a long line of American remakes of perfectly fine foreign horror films. The biggest mistake these remakes suffer from is that they lack the political and social commentary the movies they are based on thrive on. The reasons these movies are made in other countries don’t apply in America, and so we are always left with hollow versions of them. I think of Sweden’s LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) vs. LET ME IN (2010,) South Korea’s A TALE OF TWO SISTERS (2003) vs. THE UNINVITED (2009,) or even the upcoming Americanized remake of South Korea’s zombie white-knuckler, TRAIN TO BUSAN (entitled THE LAST TRAIN TO NEW YORK, coming spring, 2023). We don’t need these movies. The subset of American audiences who are turned off by reading subtitles would probably miss the point of these films anyway, and again, translating them for an American audience robs them of the reasons they were made in the first place. I shudder to think of the inevitable “Hollywooden” version of this year’s Sundance sensation, the socially commenting SPEAK NO EVIL (also from Austria–what’s going on over there?!).
Please… I beg of you… do yourself a favor and skip this remake. Watch the original in all its twisted, creepy glory, and don’t give Amazon the streaming numbers it’s begging for— maybe it will discourage them from greenlighting any more unnecessary remakes.
GOODNIGHT MOMMY is available to stream on Amazon Prime.