Goodnight Mommy Review: Naomi Watts Can’t Save the Suspenseless Horror Remake

Goodnight Mommy Review: Naomi Watts Can’t Save the Suspenseless Horror Remake

One would expect the motivation for a filmmaker who chooses to remake a critically acclaimed European horror film to be a deep admiration for the work he is adapting for an English-speaking audience. It’s a thankless task, because when embarking on such an undertaking, the filmmaker would have to know what questions of “Why did this need to be redone?” will already be an unavoidable obstacle. The answer to that question — that American audiences are lazy and that studios don’t give much thought to their ability to enjoy a movie with subtitles — is the same as ever. It’s a question that has long since become useless for genuine debate. The most troubling topic, given something like the new Good night mom remake, is “Is the director still like the original movie?” And if he did, why would he choose to take away all the elements that made him so effective?

Whatever the reason, it is this smoothing and simplification that ultimately undoes the Good night mom, coming to the streaming service today as a Naomi Watts-starring remake of the 2014 Austrian film by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. New director Matt Sobel, by comparison – known primarily for the tense 2015 family psychological drama take me to the river— has preserved the broad beats and plot of the original, while also ditching any of the potentially unpleasant elements that made the original film such an anxiety-inducing watch. This story was meticulously and brutally pushed through the American cinematic food processor, shredded into pablum and carefully stripped of any texture that might offend the palate. It’s not trying to thrill or scare unless those involved have a very low threshold of what the audience might find exciting or frightening.

Good night mom is the story of a fractured family unit, which sees twin brothers Elias and Lucas being left on a remote farm to spend an extended visit with their estranged mother. Mom, a seemingly faded former actress of some renown – one wonders how Watts felt about the casting implications – recently underwent extensive cosmetic surgery on her entire face, necessitating weird bandages on her head as she recovers, almost skiing. . mask as in appearance. This disconcerting look, along with Mom’s strange behavior changes and cold, aloof disposition, eventually lead the brothers to consider a terrifying possibility: what if the woman under the bandages isn’t their mother, but an imposter? It’s a powerfully simple premise that pits the realities and inherent power imbalance of adulthood against children’s imagination and perception.

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In both versions of the film, this dynamic is used to explore questions of who we are, as opposed to who we present ourselves. The strange behavior boys see from their mother – are these the tell-tale signs of an imposter? Or are they simply parts of her mother that she has always successfully managed to hide in the past? Is her true identity literally that of a stranger, or has her “true self” simply been a stranger to them all along? These kinds of preserved themes are the strongest aspects of Kyle Warren’s script, but it quickly loses steam when it becomes apparent that the film fears treading anywhere near the original’s most transgressive territory, as the brothers decide they must take the matter up. in consideration. your own hands.

Simply put, this version of Good night mom it’s very lacking in verve and conviction, sanitizing the film it’s remaking while trying to avoid confronting its more genuinely disturbing elements. It’s an odd choice for what’s being marketed as a spooky horror movie released in the run-up to the Halloween season – why, for example, did the production designers choose to make the mask so much less visually menacing this time around? Watts may be ready to play a morally gray character whom audiences must occasionally fear, but she’s not getting any favors through something as seemingly small as costume or makeup; Austrian actress Susanne Wuest got a lot more mileage on a detail as inconsequential as her bloodshot eyes. A viewer who has seen the original film can perhaps wonder why the producers would be squeamish about following its plot, but here we are skimping on even the most basic of the potentially fear-inducing elements. It’s as if the film, never intended for theaters, is trying to keep a non-existent PG-13 rating intact, for reasons unknown.

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This reticence has the effect of simplifying and streamlining the audience’s empathic reaction to the characters, which is much more fluid in the 2014 original. Here, it seems the desire is to clarify who we should sympathize with at any given moment, so as not to leave anything to chance. or to interpretation. One of the strongest aspects of the Austrian film is the way it forces the trial to come and go minute by minute, right up to the film’s final moments. These shades of gray are obliterated by constantly advancing black and white walls.

At the same time, this Good night mom is let down by its depressing, sober cinematography, encapsulated by its faded color palette and glacial movement. His images are sun-bleached and icy from start to finish, the visual equivalent of getting hypothermia and sunburn at the same time. Undoubtedly there is an intention here, some extremely broad visual metaphor for the coldness of the central relationship, but this sort of muted visual aesthetic seems increasingly abused in modern indie horror, especially by relatively inexperienced directors trying to give their films some kind of of “high horror” of respectability, as if simply oppressing the public was the same as affecting it. While the original film’s naturalistic visual style contains the occasional splash of color and vitality, this one feels like just a work of forced consistency, with no peaks or valleys to break the monotony. It’s not exactly a member of the David Yates school of visual lifelessness, but it’s not far off either.

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As for the performances… they are good, but at the end of the day they have so little impact on the overall presentation that they hardly deserve to be mentioned. Cameron Crovetti pulls the two brothers’ heavy lifting, portraying the conflicted Elias with assured professionalism, but he’s also let down by a distinct lack of imagination, an absent willingness to allow the character to explore more troubled territory. Any time Good night mom tiptoe toward the edge, there’s a hand waiting to pull her back into the mundane.

With that being said, for an audience member who hasn’t seen the 2014 original, this version of Good night mom will be significantly easier to consume (and then forget about in no time). For that viewer, the film might register as a competent but uninspired psychological thriller with an uneasy sense of familiarity. For fans of the original, however, seeing a modern classic replaced by a sanitized imposter might seem eerily appropriate, albeit disappointing.

Director: Matt Sobel
Writer: Kyle Warren
Starring: Naomi WattsCameron CrovettiNicholas Crovetti
Release date of: September 16, 2022

Jim Vorel is a writer on the Paste team and a resident geek of the genre. You may follow him on twitter for more movie scripts.

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