The Lodge is easily one of my favorite horror pictures of the past few years. Writer-directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala conjure up an oppressively dark mood, one that makes the soul feel hollow long after you’ve left the theater. After seeing the film, I immediately set out to find what else these filmmakers had done, many recommending their prior project, the 2014 Austrian film Goodnight Mommy. Despite high interest and a poster that you’ll see every time you close your eyes, other films kept me occupied. Now, a second chance has come, in the form of an English-language remake starring Naomi Watts.
There’s a certain beauty of going into this sort of thing cold. As online arguments rage over whether or not this remake is necessary, no such expectations befall me. I get to go in blissfully unaware of how it stacks up to the original. All that matters is that it works in its own right. And it does. Director Matt Sobel builds an uncanny atmosphere off the rip. Twins Elias (Cameron Crovetti) and Lukas (Nicolas Crovetti) arrive at the home of their estranged mother (Naomi Watts) for the holidays. Instead of the comforting presence they remember, they find an icy presence in her place, wearing bandages over her head over all but her eyes and mouth.
Naomi Watts puts the bulk of Goodnight Mommy on her shoulders. Her performance feels uncanny; it becomes something of a mental game to try and figure out what’s going on behind those bandages. There’s a sinister undercurrent to her every action, or is there? The question hangs in the air constantly of whether or not she’s actually the boys’ mother. Her actions create a steady discomfort, making it easy to get into Elias and Lukas’ frame of mind. Sobel and screenwriter Kyle Warren are deliberate in what they allow the audience to see of the mother. Moments of her glimpsed from the eyes of the boys give conflicting snapshots.
There’s a real psychological disturbance to the very nature of the concept. Watts and the surrounding filmmaking accentuate the dark heart of the story. However, the Crovetti brothers aren’t exactly saddled with great characters. They try hard, but so many of their early scenes don’t amount to much other than “scared kid”… until they do. Yes, once the story starts to unfold, the characters of Elias and Lukas become integral. One might even say as complex as the “mommy” herself. This is a slow burn without a doubt, yet it’s one that pays off.
Well, it might not pay off for all audiences. Goodnight Mommy certainly leans more on the psychological than the flashy. Nor does it really bring much new to the table. It has its hook, sees it through, and accomplishes what it set out to do. There’s a feeling that there’s a nastier, more brutal version of this story out there. Maybe that’s what the original was. After all, the reveals that come fast and heavy towards the end are heartbreaking and cause a recontextualization of key events that could’ve been a third act unto itself.
Nevertheless, Goodnight Mommy is what it is. For the uninitiated, i.e. myself, Matt Sobel puts together a strong psychological drama/horror, anchored by a magnetic title character. If this were the only Goodnight Mommy I were to see, I wouldn’t be too upset. –James Preston Poole
Goodnight Mommy streams on Amazon Prime Video starting September 16.