You don’t need to watch the original Goodnight Mommy, a 2014 Austrian film from writer-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, to understand that Matt Sobel‘s retelling is utterly unnecessary. You don’t even need to read an original Goodnight Mommy review to arrive at the same conclusion. Sobel’s version is yet another half-baked, hurled-out American remake better off not attempted at all. Starring the formidable Naomi Watts as Mother of twin boys Elias and Lukas (Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti, respectively), Goodnight Mommy adds nothing to the original but does prove early critics right: sometimes it’s easier to just read subtitles. It’s also borderline insulting to take a film released only eight years ago and turn it into a version so forgettable that I have a hard time recalling anything worthwhile about it.
Watts has been part of plenty of horror remakes; she was good in The Ring and Funny Games, and both of those movies were well-done in turn. But Goodnight Mommy is not those. Watts’ performance in this film is opaque – which isn’t to fault her acting abilities; rather, it’s because of a dull and confusing script. This brand of psychological horror is as confused about what it wants to do as I was watching trying to figure itself out. While Watts’ performance as Mother becomes somewhat compelling in Goodnight Mommy‘s final act, she can’t save the rest of the movie from falling flat. Spending precious time finding itself (without success), the film simply underuses Watts: her role is a hollow attempt at motherhood that has nothing genuine to say. Hints and whispers of motherhood, fame, and narcissism drive Watts’ performance, but there’s only so much she can do with a script this tattered.
In its haste to build suspense, Goodnight Mommy seems to forget any form of narrative connectivity. It’s indecisive and conflicted about how far it wants to expand its boundaries and world-building. The film starts with an earnest attempt at psychological confusion, but ultimately fizzles out, and its final reveal leaves the audience less shocked or horrified than straight-up confused. Sobel’s Goodnight Mommy is only deceptively interested in delving into the psychological impact of childhood trauma. The movie ditches that interest almost immediately, choosing instead to harp unimaginatively on old tropes, in the process detracting from any serious attempt at exploring the its themes or genre.
Remakes like Goodnight Mommy beg the question of what makes American audiences so reluctant to watch non-English films? Why this impulse to throw together cheap remakes of original, foreign films – Pulse and Dark Water, I’m looking in your direction – to turn them into consumable, mass market, Americanized versions? Perhaps it’s simply an example of American studios treating their audiences like empty-headed guppies who need constant guidance and reassurance that any film can exist within the confines of American culture.
Even when it does bother to find inspiration in the original Austrian telling, Goodnight Mommy doesn’t do anything with that existing narrative. It’s as disoriented as someone who’s been in a car accident. And not in the entertaining way you might expect from a psychological thriller. Naomi Watts’ streak of tepid roles continues with this tragic imitation – I yearn to see her back in films that know how to use her talent and gravitas. Until then, Goodnight Mommy is notable only as the latest underwhelming script for Watts to struggle through, a movie whose rationale for existence is as obscure as its finale.