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‘Goodnight Mommy’ Review: Naomi Watts Has Twin Trouble in Amazon Do-Over

It didn’t need to exist, but this remake of the 2014 Austrian horror film is better than expected.

Goodnight Mommy
David Giesbrecht/Prime Video

Few remakes feel necessary, but English-language versions of international horror films have an especially difficult time justifying their existence. We certainly didn’t need George Sluizer or Michael Haneke to remake their own “The Vanishing” and “Funny Games” for the benefit of subtitle-averse audiences, nor was anyone asking for a “Let the Right One In” remake when it was first released. “Need” and “want” are two different things, of course, and it’s hardly unheard of for one of these remakes to be quite good — just ask Naomi Watts, who followed her star-making turn in “Mulholland Drive” with “The Ring.” The two-time Oscar nominee now finds herself as the face of Matt Sobel’s remake of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s “Goodnight Mommy.” Well, maybe not the face exactly — as in the original, her head is obscured by surgical bandages for reasons that aren’t immediately made clear.

Few remakes feel truly necessary, but English-language versions of international horror films have an especially difficult time justifying their existence. We certainly didn’t need George Sluizer or Michael Haneke to remake their own “The Vanishing” and “Funny Games” for the benefit of subtitle-averse audiences, nor was anyone asking for a “Let the Right One In” remake when it was first released. “Need” and “want” are two different things, of course, and it’s hardly unheard of for one of these remakes to be quite good — just ask Naomi Watts, who followed her star-making turn in “Mulholland Drive” with “The Ring.” (She was also in the English-language “Funny Games,” but we won’t hold that against her.) The two-time Oscar nominee now finds herself as the face of Matt Sobel’s remake of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s “Goodnight Mommy,” which the Austrian duo directed in 2014. Well, kind of — as in the original, her character’s face is obscured by surgical bandages for reasons that aren’t immediately made clear.

The film checks two creepy boxes immediately: not just the sight of Mother (Watts) in a mask, reminiscent of “Eyes Without a Face,” but also twin brothers dressed in the exact same outfit, an inherently unsettling visual ever since the Grady twins announced their intentions to play with Danny Torrance forever and ever in “The Shining.” We don’t know exactly what procedure necessitated said protection, though she suggests it was cosmetic in nature; she also asks Elias and Lucas (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti, respectively) not to mention it to their father, who dropped them off for their extended visit with Mother at her country home after an unknown time away from each other.

“What do you think she looks like under there?” one of them asks not long after arriving. The boys are excited to see their mother, but they’re also put off by both her visage and a new set of strict rules: keep the blinds drawn since she’s sensitive to sunlight at the moment, keep the noise down and stay out of her bedroom and office. (They even resort to singing “You are my sunshine” by their lonesome after she says they’re too old for a goodnight song — the horror!) She never raises her voice or gets truly angry at them that first day, but she does seem distant, even different — so much so, in fact, that Elias and Lucas can’t help wondering if the woman under the bandages is even their mother at all.

Watts, a veteran of the genre despite never quite being a scream queen, is delightfully disturbing in a role that requires her to mask her character’s true nature as well as her face. Realizing the person who gave birth to you exists as a living, breathing human being beyond her role as your mother is strange enough when you’re certain she is in fact your mother, and Watts plays into the ambiguity like a magician showing off her latest sleight of hand.

A standout scene finds Elias semi-accidentally spying on his mother as she dances in front of the mirror to Edwyn Collins’ “A Girl Like You” in her underwear. That she’s smoking a cigarette for what appears to be the first time is one thing; that she’s just ripped up a picture they drew for her is quite another. Though clearly disturbed, he can’t look away — her movements are strange, even alien, and in the moment he can’t tell whether it’s an entirely different person under those bandages or just one he never truly saw until now as we learn more about what’s really going on in the secluded home.

So are the boys delusional, or is “Mother” not Mother at all? “Goodnight Mommy” never makes it obvious, blurring the lines between paranoid thriller and psychological horror more effectively than you’d expect of a remake whose changes to its source material don’t necessitate the kind of bandages its star covers herself in. Also porous are the lines that separate villain from victim, roles that keep shifting back and forth between the children and their mother.

The twins have their own dynamic, with Lucas more domineering of his brother and less trustful of his mother, whom Elias just wants to love — and be loved by. No one who’s seen in the original will be shocked by the trajectory of their relationship, as this “Goodnight Mommy” hits all the same narrative beats as its predecessor, but those who haven’t could be pleasantly surprised. Though decidedly less unnerving than the original — both the twins’ behavior and Mother’s bandages are considerably less creepy this time around — the film manages to feel less cynical and superfluous than most retellings do. You may have to rip off a few bandages to find what makes “Goodnight Mommy” worthwhile, but at least there’s something to be found.

‘Goodnight Mommy’ Review: Naomi Watts Has Twin Trouble in Amazon Do-Over

Reviewed in Denver, September 14, 2022. MPA Rating: R. Running time: 92 MIN.

  • Production: A Prime Video release of an Amazon Studios production. Producers: V.J. Guibal, Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, Joshua Astrachan, David Kaplan. Executive producers: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala, Naomi Watts, Kyle Warren, Matt Sobel, Derrick Tseng, Sébastien Beffa, François Yon.
  • Crew: Director: Matt Sobel. Writer: Kyle Warren. Camera: Alexander Dynan. Editors: Michael Taylor, Maya Maffioli. Music: Alex Weston.
  • With: Naomi Watts, Cameron Crovetti, Nicholas Crovetti, Peter Hermann, Crystal Lucas-Perry, Jeremy Bobb.