Review: GOODNIGHT MOMMY, Irritable Mother Syndrome
Naomi Watts stars in an uneven remake, now streaming globally on Prime Video.
Goodnight Mommy (2022)
The film is now streaming globally on Prime Video.
Eight years ago, I saw the same-titled Austrian film at Fantastic Fest, which left me emotionally drained, filled with extreme unease and discomfort. My friend and fellow writer Pierce Conran wrote a review with his usual elegance, capturing how directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (an aunt and her nephew) achieved this effect.
Film studios have a voracious appetite for stories that have already been tested, so it's no great surprise that Goodnight Mommy, selected by Austria as its entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Award, might spark interest in a remake. French production company Playtime purchased the remake rights and developed the project, which was officially announced in 2021.
Written by Kyle Warren and directed by Matt Sobel, the story begins as twin brothers Elias (Cameron Crovetti) and Lucas (Nicholas Crovett) arrive at the isolated yet spacious country home of their mother (Naomi Watts). She is recovering from surgery that requires her to wear a mask that covers her face and head.
She is exhausted and irritable, and insists upon peace and quiet in the home, making Elias and Lucas uncomfortable, wondering what's going on with her. Beyond that, she seems to act irrationally, and is prone to anger. As time passes, and her behavior becomes more erratic, Elias begins to question her very identity: Is that my mother under the mask? Or a stranger?
Director Matt Sobel struggles to sustain a consistent tone in his sophomore feature. And since an oppressive, suffocating, sustained and very cold tone was a hallmark of the original film, the remake suffers by comparison. Making the twins more understandable and relatable also weakens the narrative structure, since they acted more like villains than victims in the original.
Of course, if you haven't seen the original, you won't be making such comparisons. My mind can't put those aside entirely, though.
On the plus side, it's always a bonus to be able to watch Naomi Watts in another difficult and nuanced performance that distinguishes and elevates this remake from too many others like it. As competent and well-crafted as it is, Goodnight Mommy fails to recapture what made the original memorably potent.
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