In the opening scene of the new film “Goodnight Mommy” we see a father (Peter Hermann) drop off his twin sons Elias and Lukas (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti) at their mother’s middle-of-nowhere modernist home. We pick up on several things in these early moments. It’s clear the mother and father are separated. It’s equally clear that the boys haven’t seen their mother in a while. So as the dad drives away, Elias and Lukas scamper inside to find their ‘mommy’. What they discover is alarming to say the least.
The brothers find their mother (Naomi Watts) and are surprised to see her entire face covered in bandages. She explains it’s the result of a recent cosmetic surgery and that she just needs time to heal. The three sit down and their mother lays down a few house rules. Some are pretty normal (no running or shouting in the house, stay out of her office, etc.). But some will automatically set off alarms for any well-versed horror/thriller fan (keep the blinds closed, sunlight is bad, stay out of the barn, etc.).
Directed by Matt Sobel and written by Kyle Warren, “Goodnight Mommy” is a remake of a 2014 Austrian film of the same name. I haven’t seen the original, but many have praised it as dark, disquieting psychological horror. Obviously I can’t compare the two, but this new “Goodnight Mommy” didn’t quite grab me that way. It’s not that it’s a bad film. In fact it wastes no time building up some pretty good suspense. And it’s helped by Watts who (to no surprise) delivers a solid performance despite a script that does her no favors.
As the tender Elias and the more rambunctious Lukas spend more time with their mother, they start to notice unusual behavior. She’s colder and more distant. She’s quick tempered and snaps at the boys for the smallest things. But things only get worse, and soon Elias and Lukas come to a startling conclusion. They convinced that the woman under the heavy gauze is not their mother.
That’s a really good setup with loads of potential. And there are plenty of ways to squeeze some good tension out the premise. But unfortunately things start to deflate in the second half as the movie struggles to keep its early momentum. Even worse, the story’s big twist becomes obvious well before it’s revealed. And that turns out to be a killer, zapping the movie of any tension and suspense. And with the exception of one lone delightfully terrifying scene, finding anything resembling a fright or a thrill proves to be a chore.
Again, I haven’t seen the original “Goodnight Mommy”, but this English-language update plays like a more sanitized version – one that lacks the guts to really take this story to darker and more unsettling places. In fairness, by the end it makes sense why things aren’t quite as twisted and deranged as they could’ve been. But that doesn’t change the experience of watching the film, especially the second half which desperately needs a kick. “Goodnight Mommy” is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.