Producers: V.J. Guibal, Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, Joshua Astrachan and David Kaplan Director: Matt Sobel Screenplay: Kyle Warren Cast: Naomi Watts, Cameron Crovetti, Nicholas Crovetti, Peter Hermann, Crystal Lucas-Perry and Jeremy Bobb Distributor: Prime Video
Very few people who watch Matt Sobel’s limp, tepid thriller will have seen the 2014 Austrian film by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala from which it’s been adapted, and will probably scoff when told how genuinely frightening and disturbing the original was. Like so many attempts to redo foreign chillers, this drab, listless “Goodnight Mommy” is a feeble copy of a far superior movie, bled almost dry of its predecessor’s sinister, gruesome edge.
Only the basic premise remains. Two young brothers, Elias (Cameron Crovetti) and Lukas (Nicholas Crovetti)—twins in the original, but not here (and one wonders why their oddly foreign-sounding first names weren’t changed, given that everything else is Americanized)—are reunited with their mother (Naomi Watts) at her isolated home. (There’s an old barn on the property, which is odd since the modernist place is surely no farm, but then it’s needed for the clumsily refashioned finale.)
In the original, this reunion isn’t explained; it just happens. Here, in just the first effort to “normalize” a distinctly abnormal story, they’re dropped off by their father (Peter Hermann), who’s apparently on bad terms with his ex-wife. She’s not there to greet the boys, who go into the house to find her in a full-head bandage-mask, which she explains as the result of a “little procedure,” obviously a face-lift designed to extend what’s apparently an acting career. She also lays down some rules about keeping things quiet while she recuperates.
It doesn’t take long before Lukas begins to question whether the woman is really their mother at all. She no longer sings “You Are My Sunshine” to them at bedtime, she rips up a drawing Elias has made for her, and she seems not loving but overbearing and imperious, especially when she finds them making their way into that forbidden barn. Her eyes, moreover, as Lukas notes, are blue, while those in her old headshots are green. Elias is persuaded, and they decide first to run away—they’re caught and returned by two local cops, concerned Sandy (Crystal Lucas-Perry) and oafishly dismissive Gary (Jeremy Bobb)—and then decide to put physical pressure on their purported mother to confess her imposture.
In the original film, their torture of the woman was horrifyingly grisly, interrupted only by an intrusion by a couple of charity solicitors. Here it’s stripped down and sanitized into simply tying her to a bed and gagging her when those two Keystone Kops return to check that everything’s okay. Eventually there’s a big revelation that explains why the boys and their mother have been acting so strangely; in the first picture, it was presented in oblique and unnerving terms, but here it’s spelled out explicitly with a return visit to that out-of-place barn, in the apparent belief that American audiences are too dense to be able to deal with any hint of ambiguity. Sobel and screenwriter Kyle Warren retain the original’s coda, but typically lose the ethereal quality it possessed.
Watts brings her customary professionalism to the role of the mother, and her star status probably required that the mask be removed in the last act so that her full-throated emoting wouldn’t be impeded by it. The Crovetti boys get by, but only barely; cinematographer Alexander Dynan, whose work doesn’t achieve the moody visual aesthetic of the Austrian film, resorts to using a lot of facial shadows to make them look vaguely haunted—and the insertion of a couple of nightmare sequences is a cheap way to accentuate Elias’ psychological turmoil. Lucas-Perry and Bobb do what they can with their poorly-written, stereotyped parts.
Apart from Dynan’s prosaic camerawork, the technical credits include a production design by Mary Lena Colston that never gives the house a particularly spooky feel and costumes by Carisa Kelly that, apart from the silken robe that shows off Watts’s sleek figure, add little to the texture. Editors Michael Taylor and Maya Maffioli attempt to wring some tension from a narrative that’s been reduced to nearly nothing, while Alex Weston’s music opts for a grumbling, ominous mood until the closing crawls, when it finally shrieks out with screaming strings, perhaps to awaken viewers by then lulled into slumber or simple torpor.
Don’t let this damp squib of a thriller keep you from investigating the 2014 version. The original “Goodbye Mommy” was a film it was hard to shake off; this misguided remake is one that, thankfully, will be difficult to remember.