|Director: Matt Sobel
|Screenplay: Kyle Warren (based on the film Goodnight Mommy by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala)
|Stars: Naomi Watts (Mother), Cameron Crovetti (Elias), Nicholas Crovetti (Lukas), Peter Hermann (Father), Jeremy Bobb (Gary), Crystal Lucas-Perry (Sandy)
|MPAA Rating: R
|Year of Release: 2022
Goodnight Mommy, a remake of the 2014 Austrian horror film Ich seh, Ich she, is set almost entirely in and around a large, chic mansion in the woods whose isolation from the rest of the world provides a ready-made, twisted fairy-tale vibe. The mansion is home to an unnamed woman (Naomi Watts) who has recently had some kind of facial plastic surgery, which explains why her face is covered in an unsettling mask of white gauze. It is in this state that she welcomes (if that is the right word) the return of her twin sons, Elias (Cameron Crovetti) and Lukas (Nicholas Crovetti), who have been living with their father (Peter Hermann) for an undetermined period of time and are seeing their mother for the first time in a long time. We sense that something has happened to fracture this family, but we don’t know what—at first.
The film’s opening act is an effective study in discomfort and disconnect, as the boys (who look to be 10 or 11) try to settle into some kind of rhythm of normality at the house, but are constantly undercut by their mother, who enforces on them strict rules and seems always on the verge of losing her patience or her mind. The affectless white mask, which show her eyes and her mouth, but nothing else, makes her seem otherworldly and removed, a kind of physical manifestation of the clear emotional difficulty she is having in being around her own kids. Elias and Lukas sense the disconnect and arrive at the conclusion that, perhaps, she is not actually their mother, but rather some kind of imposter. Once convinced of this, they begin trying to figure out who is living in their mother’s house and claiming to be her, which pushes them to more and more extreme ploys to force her to admit the ruse.
Given the amount of ambiguity that suffuses the film’s first half, it is no surprise that there is a “big reveal” waiting around the corner, one that some viewers may figure out ahead of time (I, for the record, was not one of them). There are any number of possibilities, but they ultimately all revolve around the vexed and eventually violent interactions between mother and sons, who play out a twisted Oedipal drama of simultaneous mother fixation (in unmasking the “fake” mother, they are determined to save the “real” one, wherever she is) and potential matricide. The manner in which screenwriter Kyle Warren, adapting the original film written and directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, balances the power struggle between mother and children is fascinating and keeps the film afloat for an impressive run, although he must resort to some arguably cheap tactics, including an extended nightmare sequence that is played as if it were reality (the scene is so good in its squirm-inducing monstrousness that you almost hate it when you discover that it never really happened).
Director Matt Sobel, whose only other feature film is the 2005 thriller Take Me to the River, keeps a firm grip on the proceedings, ratcheting up the tension when necessary and milking the film’s sordid premise for all it’s worth without slipping into cheap sensationalism. It helps that he is working with an actress of Naomi Watts’s caliber, as she is able to make the mother both horrifying in a wicked Disney-stepmother kind of way, but also sad and pathetic. Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti are also very good as the conflicted kids who are willing to go to some frightening extremes to unmask what they believe to be a false parent. Goodnight Mommy is slick and stylish in the manner of so many contemporary horror thrillers, so it doesn’t have much that is unique or original to offer visually, but its dramatic conflict is potent enough to carry us through to the eventual revelation we may or may not see coming.
Copyright © 2022 James Kendrick
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