Synopsis: Twin brothers arrive at their mother’s country home and discover her face covered in bandages — the result, she explains, of recent cosmetic surgery — and immediately sense something doesn’t add up. As her behavior grows increasingly bizarre and erratic, there’s a horrifying suspicion that the woman beneath the gauze isn’t their mother at all.
Stars: Naomi Watts, Cameron Crovetti, Nicholas Crovetti, Peter Hermann, Crystal Lucas-Perry, Jeremy Bobb
Director: Matt Sobel
Running Length: 91 minutes
TMMM Score: (4.5/10)
Review: It had been a minute since I had seen 2014’s Goodnight Mommy, the German horror film that serves as the basis for this English-language remake being released by Amazon Studios. Impressive enough to be recognized by its country as the official submission for the Best International Feature Oscar, perhaps its gruesome final act turned off the nominating committee enough that they forgot how well things started. I remember looking forward to the scare flick from Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala based on its freaky trailer but ultimately disappointed in how far they took things. There’s horror, and then there’s just plain gross, and directors stepped over that line too far.
Strangely, that’s the biggest problem with the remake starring Naomi Watts and a new pair of twins that doubt she’s their mother and tests her extensively in trying to prove it. It can see where the line is because it’s taken on the responsibilities of remaking a known property, but it never gets up the nerve to entirely go where it needs to meet the bloody footprints of its predecessor. That may sound a bit contradictory after what I said above but had new screenwriter Kyle Warren and director Matt Sobel found a way to improve upon the Franz/Fiala screenplay, I could excuse the wuss-out. They don’t, and so their remake feels underbaked.
Opening on a home video (well, a camera phone, this is the digital age, you know) footage of a mother singing a nighttime lullaby to twin boys, we notice the mother doesn’t like being on camera. We don’t even get a good look at her before we switch to the slightly older twins, Elias (Cameron Crovetti, The Gray Man) and Lucas (Nicholas Crovetti, Witch Hunt), arriving at a remote house smack dab in a beautiful stretch of open country. Deposited by their dad (Peter Hermann, Philomena), who doesn’t think he should accompany the boys inside, the twins eagerly await a reunion with their mother. Quickly, the excitement drains when they see Mother (Watts, Penguin Bloom) with her face covered with a bandage that looks like a ski mask, hiding most of her facial features.
A once famous actress that doesn’t work as much, Mother appears happy with this reunion but only just so. There’s trepidation in the welcome and nervous energy the boys pick up on. Moreover, she seems more closed off and unwilling to share the warmth she used to give freely. Lucas is the first to say out loud what both of them are thinking. “I don’t think that’s our mother.” From that planted seed grows a festering doubt in both, which sees them spy on the woman when she thinks she’s alone, dancing to “A Girl Like You” by Edwyn Collins in her underwear as she regards herself in a mirror and taking a bath with silicone pads over her face.
The more they see, the more they doubt, and it all builds to a finale where multiple truths are revealed, and a final mask is removed. What’s going on will likely be easy to figure out for anyone that’s watched a thriller or two in their day, and while the 2014 film kept you guessing for a while, I think it’s even more evident from the start here. Warren has toned down a lot of the violence that arises in the third act, the violence I found unnecessary from the original but, as it turns out, when it is missing, was a critical piece that gave particular players more skin in the game.
I liked everyone in the movie, even the twins, who are pretty good with increasingly tricky material, and I wish I could pick them up and put them all in a better movie. I’ve struggled with Watts lately because I’m unsure who is choosing the material for her or if she’s even interested in finding her way back to the A-List. She’s such a remarkable actress that you want to see her in a project capitalizing on her talents, and Goodnight Mommy comes closer than any recently. To convey the kind of emotion she does while covered almost head to toe in gauzy material or clothes is difficult, but she is always present. Even if she’s not who she says she is (I’m not telling), she’s an intense person to be around.
Bravery is the lesson to be learned from Goodnight Mommy for anyone considering a future remake. You must risk it all if you’re taking on this crucial task. Take the bull by the proverbial horns and take your shot at putting your stamp on the feature. Please don’t shy away from what made the movie famous in the first place but make it your own simultaneously. To water it down doesn’t serve anyone.