Goodnight Mommy Review: Admirable Performances Help Savage This Nuanced Remake

As much as horror fans might wish for one, there's no official grace period for how long a production must wait before rebooting, remaking, or reimagining an original concept. Take the Austrian Goodnight Mommy, for example, which had been out for less than a decade before Prime Video tapped director Matt Sobel to deliver his own take on the material for American audiences. While eight years have passed, some fans are already decrying this reimagination as being "too soon," despite other revivals having been developed in a fraction of that time. Luckily for fans of the original, Sobel hasn't attempted to remake that effort merely so audiences can avoid reading subtitles, yet by leaning into other angles of the narrative, this new take does lose a bit of the effectiveness of the breakout 2014 film.

When young twins Elias (Cameron Crovetti) and Lucas (Nicholas Crovetti) arrive at their mother's (Naomi Watts) house, they're immediately concerned with the fact that her whole face is covered in bandages, the results of a "tune-up" she claims to have undergone. More than merely looking different physically, the boys notice that she is colder, angrier, and more distant from the boys. This sparks speculation that the person under the bandages isn't their mother at all, igniting an escalating and paranoia-driven investigation by the boys that only drives their "mother" even madder.

Preconceived notions about the film aside, this new take on Goodnight Mommy absolutely works, thanks in large part to the powerful performances by the main trio of stars. The isolated setting means that at least one of if not all of the trio are always on screen, with only a handful of ancillary characters appearing to break up this dynamic. It should come as no surprise that Watts deftly handles the material, switching from an upset and violent parent to an apologetic figure who is merely working through her own problems. The details of the split from the boys' father aren't exposed explicitly, but it's easy to dismiss some of the darker concepts about the story as her merely trying to cope with a separation. Add to this the fact that most of Watt's face is obscured throughout the film and it adds another notch to her ever-growing list of impressive outings.

Many audiences met the Crovetti twins in the HBO series Big Little Lies, with the pair's performances rivaling that of Watts'. Their mood swings might not be nearly as severe as hers, though they both have to navigate being timid, antagonistic, fearful, and tormented, as they explore all of these moods with ease. Cameron specifically handles the brunt of these responsibilities, holding his own against the twisted Watts. Were this trio not as confident in their performances, the film would have failed right out of the gate.

Even having already seen the original film in its initial release, this new take on Goodnight Mommy is engaging and unexpected enough to make me forget the twists and turns that the storyline takes, which is a credit not only to the core concept, but also to Sobel's direction. Whereas the original movie leaned a bit more into more horrific elements, almost implying the mother was some sort of monster while also utilizing more overtly disturbing imagery with masks, bugs, and torture, Sobel instead leans more into the psychological perspective. While the audience can analyze every sequence as it is presented to try to discern what could really be happening, he intentionally leans into the eyes of children, bringing with it all the freedom and limited insight that implies. Only hearing snippets of a phone conversation the mother has can lead them to jump to the worst conclusions, omitting the very possible and real justification for such interactions and outbursts. 

Seemingly to compensate for the lack of more abject horror that was showcased in the original, there are multiple sequences in which the boys' fantasies get the best of them, only to be awoken from dream states. Even if the first of these sequences might be relatively effective, it's frustrating to see the film go back to the same well later in the film for an encounter to evoke the same effect. The inclusion of these encounters almost feels like retroactive studio notes that demanded the film have more disturbing sequences in them, because without them, the film would entirely fall into the realm of a psychological thriller, potentially even skirting by with a PG-13 rating. 

The narrative in both films is undeniably engaging, keeping audiences on their toes with what this family is capable of doing to one another and what the truth of the situation really is. While this version works on its own as a relatively thrilling experience that leads to an unexpected ending, it still feels like a restrained version of the source material. The cast absolutely elevates the intimate experience, making for a worthy endeavor for horror fans to embark on, with this take on the material potentially resonating more strongly with those interested in mind-bending thrillers, though those who already have an established affinity for the work of filmmakers Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala will likely be left wanting.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Goodnight Mommy lands on Prime Video on September 16th.