Naomi Watts: Queen of Remakes, Duchess of Reboots, Countess of Reimaginings. From one of her first roles in Children of the Corn: The Gathering, her breakout studio role in The Ring (and the subsequently unfortunate The Ring Two), her blockbuster lead in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, or the horrifyingly faithful American remake to Michael Haneke’s Austrian horror film Funny Games, the Australian icon knows a thing or two about remakes. She also is not a stranger to starring in some…questionable films, at points, but always remains capable of being the best things within said films all the same. Ironically, like Funny Games, Watts finds herself at the mercy of remaking yet another deeply disturbing Austrian horror film in Goodnight Mommy, but unlike that of Funny Games, a shot-for-shot remake directed by the director of the original, Goodnight Mommy takes some serious departures from the 2014 original from Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.
Lukas (Nicholas Crovetti) and Elias (Cameron Crovetti) are identical twins practically attached at the hip. After their mother (Naomi Watts), a famous actress, returns from a lengthy cosmetic surgery, the boys return home to her from their estranged father’s house. Alone with their heavily bandaged mother, the boys begin to notice strange behavior from their mother, and paired with violent, supernatural dreams, both begin to suspect the woman in their home is not their true mother. They soon band together to take on the entity that has replaced their mother.
I actually respect remakes, as I understand that there are cultural nuances that can change and shift a film into a new storytelling territory not possible in other regions. There’s also a chance for different filmmakers to place different styles on an existing piece of work. I think there’s no better example of this than Watts’s own starring role in Gore Verbinski’s The Ring. Despite not following the novel by Koji Suzuki, and subsequently that of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 Japanese adaptation Ringu, there is actually a good deal more moodiness and atmosphere imbued into the Seattle-based horror film thanks to the different approach taken by Verbinski to the material. Sure, you lose direct faithfulness, but you gain a deeper sense of dread and make one of the best horror films of the 2000s in the process.
And this is where I will give Goodnight Mommy some credit, screenwriter Kyle Warren and director Matt Sobel really do try to make this a new take on the original film, and that takes quite a bit of elbow grease to do. However, this is where the problem begins. While I respect the choice to do something new with the material, what’s chosen to be done in place of the previous material is actively less engaging, disturbing, and scary, which is what made Goodnight Mommy so deeply effective in its original form. This version, subverting the explicit violence and nihilistically upsetting imagery, feels all but toothless in comparison.
What’s also lost is the dissonance that the original film brought to the table. A film so deeply unsettling which thrived on almost exclusively being bathed in the bright, summer Austrian sunlight. While I can see why one would think to bathe a new vision of the film in deep shadows and dark greens, there’s an obvious sense of dread being pushed upon the audience that isn’t allowed to naturally creep its way into the viewer’s mind. We’re told something is wrong here, as opposed to figuring that out ourselves.
And then there’s just the general bluntness of this remake. Rated R only for “some language,” it’s clear that this version, before going directly to streaming, was intended to be a PG-13 film, which I still believe it could’ve been minus one or two of what I recall to be three uses of the word “fuck.” Compared to the senseless and horrifying violence of the original, there’s something lost in the impact that it had. Unlike a lot of “torture porn” films that put humans through unimaginable situations of mutilation for audience entertainment, Goodnight Mommy hit hard because it actually contained an emotional core behind its grisly nature, and that took what technically was tame in comparison to whatever Saw film had just come out at the time, to something burned into the retinas of every viewer forever. Without any of that, I see nothing to remember here.
I’ll give some more credit where credit is due. Like I mentioned earlier about her work, Watts still delivers a good performance at the center of this film, despite everything else. There’s a much less sinister nature about her character here than the original, and I actually did like that element to this. The push/pull of “Is she or isn’t she?” provides a nice balance for the audience unaware of the third act twists for Watts, and she handles it wonderfully. That’s just the power of her as an actress. It doesn’t matter if you’re making the worst thing possible (this is not that), if you have Naomi there, there’s at least one good thing coming out of it.
I hate constantly comparing this film to the original, but when you remake a film as memorable and mentally-scarring as Goodnight Mommy, particularly if you decide to try to take a new direction with it, I’m going to have some things to say. I don’t necessarily understand who this film is really for, to be honest. Fans of the original will likely walk away feeling like it was simply a diet version of that film; new viewers will likely feel bored and confused by the less linear story this one tells, and Amazon simply hasn’t promoted the film to any degree to get it noticed by any mainstream outlets. It’s far from the worst horror remake to come about, but when you can’t even fulfill the superlative of “Best remake of a famously disturbing Austrian horror film starring Naomi Watts,” we have a bit of a problem.
Available on Prime Video September 16th, 2022.
Final Score: 2 out of 5.