Monday, October 3, 2022

Goodnight Mommy is a butt-faced remake that abuses Naomi Watts

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Directed by Matt Sobel. Cast: Naomi Watts, Cameron Crovetti, Nicholas Crovetti, Peter Hermann, Crystal Lucas-Perry, Jeremy Bobb. 15, 91 minutes.

Good night mom was a 2014 Austrian horror film that came and went with a low murmur of excitement, largely due to the twist hidden in its final act. Two children, Lukas and Elias, who bear the wild looks and thin faces of baby bogeymen, come home one afternoon to retrieve their mother from the hospital. She has undergone a cosmetic procedure and her head is mummified in bandages. But the dear mother is so strange now: she refuses to acknowledge Luke and becomes cruel and violent when the boys disobey her. They soon become convinced that she has been replaced by an impostor.

Directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, the film was defined by both its cruelty and its sparseness – a cousin of the works of Austrian provocateur Michael Haneke, with a pinch The glow‘s alienating architecture. The American remake ignores all this, of course. It’s a phone game approach to art repurposing. The film narrates the original without remembering exactly what genre it was, what it was trying to do, or what it was trying to say.

The first mistake of this new, commercialized Good night mom is Naomi Watts. Not her performance — Watts is a deeply talented actress who rarely gets the recognition she deserves — but the fact that she’s a well-known and respected figure, which is the polar opposite of what this story calls for. Good night mom depends on the terror of the unknown: what is behind these bandages? Horns? fangs? Other Demonic Traits? No, it’s just the woman’s face that should have won an Oscar Mulholland Drive (2001).

The role was played with imperial coldness in Franz and Fiala’s original by relative newcomer Susanne Wüst. But here, because Watts is Watts, the film has to reconfigure itself around her, awkwardly transitioning from unsettling horror to a more conventional portrait of a woman on the brink. Watts gets a lovely, modern home that appears to have been furnished by Habitat; a handsome and kind estranged husband (Peter Hermann); and a glass of Chardonnay in the evening. What initially concerns her children (Nicholas Crovetti and Cameron Crovetti), who look like the screaming protagonists of an Amblin movie, isn’t some extraterrestrial behavior. It’s the fact that she smokes now.

In short, she’s too human. Watts is an actor who always seems a second away from breaking, as if a tidal wave of emotion is about to erupt. When she meets Elias in the shower with the waterboard, it doesn’t read as nightmare fodder, but as simple child abuse. And it’s not because of that Good night mom seeks to radically question our concept of “monstrous women”; Director Matt Sobel still approaches the footage as horror (although the film’s third act, Gore Fest, has been thoroughly cleaned up and replaced with a few random dream sequences).

And the twist? It’s more hidden here than in the original film, but in such a random way that I can only imagine it’s even more obvious here. Kyle Warren’s screenplay tries so desperately to sidestep the truth that the dialogue is full of non-sequiturs – phrases whose meaning is empty, rather than ambiguous. All in all, the film is exactly what you would imagine a Hollywood remake to be. It’s too spiteful, too stripped of its meanness. And so bleakly inevitable.

Goodnight Mommy will begin streaming on Prime Video on September 16th

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