Few premises are more unnerving than that of a deceitful parent. When Amazon Studios announced its upcoming remake of Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala’s 2014 Austrian horror film “Goodnight Mommy,” arthouse horror fans garnered high expectations. Set in a lofty rural open-concept home, the original film’s tranquil ambiance juxtaposes its sinister content. But despite sharing its core story, the American remake’s lack of cinematic dedication solidifies the superiority of its haunting Austrian predecessor.
The shifty 2014 European tale follows twin protagonists, Lukas (Lukas Schwartz) and Elias (Elias Schwartz), who question their mother’s true identity after she undergoes a totalizing facial surgery and must cover her entire face with gauze. Played by Susanne West, the shell-shocked matriarch’s ghostly demeanor embellishes the film with a feeling of doll-like eeriness. There’s something almost subhuman about West’s portrayal that proves integral to the film’s classification as horror — an elusive air of emptiness missing in Naomi Watts’ interpretation of the character.
While Watts’ parental performance is certainly charming, her warmth and femininity dilute any possibility of inciting fear among audiences. There’s no question as to whether or not this masked woman is really the boys’ mother; the affirmative answer is all too obvious. This lack of suspense subverts nearly all horrific elements of the film, resulting in a bland and storyless episode with no purpose or intrigue. While other plot twists remain concealed, Watts’ comforting maternal mannerisms prove to be unconvincing smoke and mirrors.
In the Austrian version of the film, the suspicious twins enact tortuous tests against their mother to validate accusations of fraud and force her to admit her lies. Harkening back to the bold creative choices of Stanley Kubrik and David Lynch, Austrian directors Franz and Fiala were comfortable with the uncomfortable: the children tie their mother up, cover her mouth with duct tape, seal her lips with superglue and burn her face with a magnifying glass. It’s truly dreadful to watch, but it makes for captivating cinema.
In the American rendition, however, Lukas (Nicholas Crovetti) and Elias (Cameron Crovetti) ponder “Is she our real mother?” without resorting to cruel and unusual punishment. This lazy choice by director Matt Sobel constitutes yet another fail in the scary department. Squeamish viewers should already know to shy away from horror if they seek to avoid disgust — why did Sobel pander to an innocent audience? If not to appease cult horror fanatics, the purpose of this remake is feckless and unclear.
An additional American blunder occurs when Watts’ character removes her facial covering halfway through the film, making the second half even more useless and boring. This faulty plotline is a total disgrace in comparison to the original film’s bizarre uncertainty.
A similarity between both films is their weak cinematography. Both movies’ high-key lighting style seems to be a result of nearby windows rather than skillful gaffing and electric equipment. However, given Amazon Studios’ billion dollar corporate backing, the new version’s cinematography could have been a point of improvement in comparison to the original. However, the choice to play it safe with drab lighting and simple camera techniques was an unsurprising disappointment.
The film did have some rare redeeming qualities; child actors Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti were skilled and emotive, and the comforting setting of the movie paid tasteful homage to the original. But all in all, the story was unnecessarily melodramatic given everything that was glossed over.
With unanswered questions and graphic visuals, Franz and Fiala’s 2014 horror film was both frightening and mesmerizing — requiring viewers’ eyes to remain glued to the screen. But, as is often the case with mainstream remakes, Amazon Studios’ watered-down execution was a painful-in-all-the-wrong-ways snoozefest. If one chooses to see the 2022 adaptation of “Goodnight Mommy” this fall, they’d better say “goodnight” to any expectations of enjoyment.