When it comes to offering audiences a "remake" of a beloved story, there are a number of ways in which to bring a new take on the material to life, with director of the new Goodnight Mommy Matt Sobel taking one of the more effective approaches. Rather than doing a literal recreation of that core story, he and screenwriter Kyle Warren took the concept and stuck to the overall structure, yet altered the tone to lean more into the film's psychological and emotionally unsettling themes to make an experience that feels both fresh and familiar. The new Goodnight Mommy hits Prime Video on September 16th.
"When I was brought this project by the producers at Animal Kingdom, I initially said, 'Good luck with it. It's not for me. I'll see you next time, because I am not interested in participating in remaking a film just for people who don't want to read subtitles at all,'" Sobel shared with ComicBook.com about developing the project. "But it was after that conversation where I passed. I was in a conversation with my friend, Kyle Warren, who would end up writing the film. And we started talking about the possibility ... We had both seen the original, we liked the original film, but we were talking about the possibility of a different way of remaking something that was less about translating the material for a different language audience and more about transcribing the elemental plot into a different genre and into a different theme. And so it was more like, for instance, when The Taming of the Shrew is re-staged, but with the genders reversed, the original text takes on new thematic meaning."
He continued, "We started talking about our reinterpretation. We started calling it a 're-imagining,' actually, and thinking about themes that were important to us that were maybe not present in the original film. It's not to knock the original film at all. I think that the original filmmakers would agree, actually, I'm sure that they would because we spoke about it, that there doesn't need to be a shot-for-shot remake of that film. What there needs to be is a new story that honors the original by using the basic structure and plot of the original and turns it into something new."
While the original film is more overtly horror with some psychological elements, it is more viscerally unsettling. This new version, however, almost feels like a dark fantasy.
"So the themes that really interested us were the, 'us' meaning Kyle and I, the human tendency to see ourselves as the heroes or the victims of our own lives and never to see ourselves as the villain," the director continued. "And we thought that was a topical theme. We thought that was an interesting theme that interested us in other projects that we were working on and saw a way that the elements of the plot of Goodnight Mommy could be shaped to tell that thematic story. And so I called back Animal Kingdom and I said, 'Hey, I think I have a new idea, but it will be very different than the original. Let me know if you're you're into it.'"
The original film has a handful of iconic visuals, from children wearing creepy masks to a scene in which a bug crawls across the mother's face, with Sobel detailing the process of how heavily he allowed the original film to influence his project in one direction or another.
"A lot of delineation happened organically from that core difference of ideas, so from that idea sprung the idea that Elias is the main character," Sobel explained. "From that idea sprung the notion, 'Well, we want to see the world differently because we're not seeing it in this more sterile, austere, objective way, but we're seeing it through his eyes.' We want to make it seem like this movie is the movie inside Elias' mind, not this tableau. We're seeing all the characters at this chilly, arm's length.
He added, "From that sprung all sorts of ideas about the cinematography and the production design. But then there were also some ideas where we just practically speaking had to say, 'We know that this will be compared to the original, so let's make a slightly different choice in this scene.' And if you were to watch the original again, you would probably notice that there aren't actually that many scenes that are direct comparisons between the two. There's actually very few scenes that happen in both, and we did that on purpose."
To precisely navigate keeping audiences guessing about the truth behind the situation, Sobel utilized every tool at his disposal to keep audiences guessing, from the script to the direction to the editing to the music.
"It began with the script, but it really went all the way up until even after we locked picture because a huge part of that was the music and the sound design, too. So it could happen the entire time," Sobel expressed. "Elias is a boy who's living in a very upsetting reality, and rather than seeing that, he chooses to see a dark fantasy instead. That dark fantasy is the movie that we're watching for the first 90% of the movie, and so it feels somewhat heightened. It feels somewhat stylized and that's on purpose, because that's the movie in his mind. It's not the hard, brutal reality, and, I don't know if you'll notice, but there's no handheld used in the film until the very end, and that's because we wanted to visually support this idea that we are in a more stylized and more clean fantasy of his, where the corners, the rough edges are all smoothed out. And then as soon as we are forced out of that, it's very brutal and raw and suddenly everything's handheld."
Goodnight Mommy lands on Prime Video on September 16th.
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