Goodnight Mommy cannot avoid comparisons that unfavorably exemplify why American remakes often struggle to live up to their foreign originals

Goodnight Mommy Review


Goodnight Mommy debuts on Prime Video on Sept. 16, 2022.

Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s Goodnight Mommy (2014) smashes through your ribcage, tears out your heart, and watches with glee as you writhe — a decade-defining bounty of scorching bleakness. Matt Sobel’s new American remake abandons all the skin-crawling imagery and punishing violence to differentiate itself, not replicate. As Sobel himself says in press materials: “We saw the opportunity to do something quite common in theater but unusual in cinema: to adhere roughly to the original plot but reframe it in a way that completely changes its meaning — and perhaps even its genre.” In other words, ditch the vicious playtime horror angle Franz and Fiala use to torment spellbound viewers. Sobel aims for something more traditionally dramatic, stripping Goodnight Mommy of everything audiences praise about the German original.
Brothers Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti respectively portray knee-high siblings Elias and Lucas. Naomi Watts stars as “Mommy,” in recovery after facial reconstruction surgery that requires a white netted bandage to cover her head. Goodnight Mommy is told from the children’s perspective as they notice quirks in Mommy that suggest she’s been replaced by a doppelgänger — Watts is comfortably alien in her skin, stoking the children’s imagination. The Crovettis feed off adolescent curiosity that drives suspicious boys away from their supposed blood mother. Their visitation quickly morphs from a joyful reunion (mom and dad separated) to body-swap imprisonment as perceived by undeveloped minds.
Sobel and screenwriter ​​Kyle Warren admit they’re not as interested in mirroring the original’s six-feet-deep graveness, instead fixating on behavioral character dynamics. Elias and Lucas become miniature detectives while Mother flies off the handle, tears apart crayon artwork, and screeches heartless orders toward her quivering children. Goodnight Mommy depends on preconceptions that favor childhood sympathies and begrudge elder mistakes as suspense hangs in limbo. Seeing is believing as Sobel warps storytelling by showing how quickly we can position ourselves as heroes or victims of our narratives — never villains. He’s targeting something more psychologically subtle that views bodily cockroach invasions and youthful rage as distractions from sociological evaluations.
In doing so, Goodnight Mommy becomes another hum-drum American remake that’s never willing to sensationalize or instigate like foreign horror. Sobel’s aforementioned quote nears dreaded “it’s not really a horror movie” territory, which loses visual impact despite a crisply shot homebound thriller that manipulates Elias’ and Lucas’ viewpoints. Whatever standout imagery Franz and Fiala unleash from arts-and-crafts masks turned warrior’s headgear to their mommy’s undergone physical torture vanish from Sobel’s more squeaky-clean Goodnight Mommy sans Elias’ nightmares about what’s hiding under Mother’s skin. It’s disappointing because the Crovettis and Watts put in work to exacerbate blame, only for the more cut-and-dry mystery to stop being so despicably mysterious.
Competence isn’t enough when comparison points exist, and that’s the danger of remake filmmaking.
Prime Video’s Goodnight Mommy never builds inescapable endangerment nor amplifies wretchedness. There’s a gear missing as Elias and Lucas are left convincing police officers they’re safe or deciding how to coax the truth out of their mother. The human element that Sobel aims to highlight becomes less commanding as cinematographer Alexander Dynan’s shot selection isn’t as ambiguous about what Goodnight Mommy strives to hide until the film’s finale. It’s not that Sobel’s a fool for approaching his remake from a different angle — in fact, kudos — but his execution misunderstands what makes Franz and Fiala’s the sinister showstopper it is. Sobel’s is more spelled-out, less sucker-punchy, and suffers from American domestication that does everything you’d fear to temper German angst.
Competence isn’t enough when comparison points exist, and that’s the danger of remake filmmaking. Sobel does well breathing cold horror air in a sequence that nails its scares in an abandoned neighboring house where Elias and Lucas fortify themselves. Watts embellishes motherly aggression to firmly plant us in Elias and Lucas’ corner, doing her best to shadow whatever reality exists between Elias’ replacement mamma accusations and Mommy’s instance that she’s just rattled from surgery. The difference is Franz and Fiala capitalize on unrest, instigating ugliness that spirals into an uncontainable explosion and leaves our jaws on the floor — Sobel gives us too much time to think, process, and decipher. Here are the building blocks; that’s all you get.
This story originally appeared on: IGN - Author:Matt Donato

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