For most horror remakes, even mediocrity is a respectable outcome. By now, every horror fan should know the feeling of walking into a remake with modest expectations, then walking out feeling more disappointed than thought possible.
“Goodnight Mommy” largely succeeds in its quest to avoid that fate. Matt Sobel’s reimagining of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s 2014 Austrian film of the same name never tries to reinvent the wheel, but while it lacks the potency of the original film, it manages to keep horror lovers entertained without ever embarrassing itself.
Lukas and Elias (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti) can’t catch a break. The film begins with their divorced dad dropping them off at their mother’s country estate, though he stays in the car to avoid confronting her. When the two boys wander inside, it’s clear their mom (Naomi Watts) was unprepared for their visit and doesn’t seem largely interested in spending time with them. This leads to a rather cold existence for the boys, who are prohibited from entering certain rooms of the house, forced to keep the blinds closed, and left to their own devices without much to do. Oh, and there’s the fact that their mom had major cosmetic surgery without telling them, and now has to keep her face covered in bandages. So they’re essentially being raised by a mummy.
The boys are immediately struck by how much she has changed, beginning to speculate about whether the woman behind the bandages is actually their mother. They start noticing details, including that her eyes appear to have changed colors, which only pours gasoline on those suspicions. Their distrust causes this woman, who may or may not be their mother, to start behaving erratically. If you suspect your children are afraid of you, putting their cell phone down the garbage disposal and forcibly spraying them with cold water is unlikely to smooth things over.
The tension in the house eventually becomes unbearable, and the twins run away. They are eventually picked up by the police, who don’t believe their stories of abuse and return them to their mother’s house. This only makes things worse, until the situation reaches a boiling point when they tie their mother to her bed and refuse to let her go until they get the truth. No matter how dark that truth may be.
Sobel should be commended for telling a compelling story without much filmmaking pizazz, letting natural tension emerge from the upsetting premise and the depressingly sterile house these children find themselves living in. One dream sequence where Watts removes her skin to reveal a Xenomorph-esque creature underneath is delightfully grotesque, but that moment stands out as an anomaly in a film that succeeds by relying on its weird vibes. The creepy movie largely suffers when it tries to shift gears and deliver actual terror, and some of its most “brutal” scenes serve as reminders of how it pales in comparison to the work that inspired it. Some of the most striking images in the original “Goodnight Mommy” see the two boys torturing their mother for information, but Sobel’s rendition of those scenes is harmless by comparison. The result is a film that creates a passable backdrop for a horror movie but never quite delivers the highs it promises.
Still, as far as horror remakes go, “Goodnight Mommy” is certainly one of the less egregious ones. The antiseptic production design and grey digital photography that bog down so many comparable projects feel appropriate in a story about people trying to move on from divorce and death. The acting is solid, even if the kids are never quite creepy enough to convince us that they could really be the aggressors that they ultimately turn into. The script is well-structured, wasting no time in setting up the action but letting its twist ending unfold at its own pace. It’s a film that seemingly aims to be average, but unlike so many other remakes, it actually achieves that goal.
“Goodnight Mommy” is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.