Goodnight Mommy review — modern day phantasmagoria theatre

By M.N. Miller
Published: September 16, 2022
Goodnight Mommy review — modern day phantasmagoria theatre


The remake of the Austrian film Goodnight Mommy‘s horror may be watered down, but the final product is a surprisingly suspenseful journey that outweighs the obvious faults.

This review of the Prime Video film Goodnight, Mommy (2022) does not contain spoilers or any significant plot points.

Why studios are obsessed with remaking critically acclaimed foreign films is beyond me, especially in today’s day and age of streaming networks loading up on cinema across the world. There is virtually nothing new audiences don’t have access to on various platforms. So, with Mark Sobel’s remake of the acclaimed Austrian horror thriller Goodnight Mommy being easily accessible for free on Roku, Vudu, and Redbox (yes, not exactly the streaming giants like Netflix, Hulu, or even Prime Video), you can’t exactly surprise audiences anymore. Yet, I was surprised by how effective Sobel’s take on the film was, even if it’s filled with more smoke and mirrors than you could possibly imagine.

Goodnight Mommy centers around a pair of twins, Elias and Lucas (played by Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti), and their relationship with their parents, “Mother” (a terrific Naomi Watts) and “Father” (Peter Hermann), who are separated. The reason for this strain is unclear, and the audience is in the dark about it. When he drops off the boys, he refuses to go in — not wise — because their mom doesn’t want to see him. They find the house dark and food rotting when they enter the country home.

When Mother appears, she is in a white silk robe and a surgical therapy mask — think of Elena Anaya in Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In. It’s not just her appearance that has the kids on edge, but Mother’s behavior. She is distant, almost aloof, and has awful mood swings. Mother cannot even remember her twin boy’s song. She would sing to them at bedtime. When Elias hands her a picture he draws for her, does she place it on the fridge? No, she tears it up and throws it in a waste basket. Mother is often verbally abusive, scolding them for not staying away from the barn in the field behind her home. And when they spot blood there, the twins start to wonder if this is their real mom. They then ponder this question: If that’s true, where is this Mother hiding her?

Veronica Franz and Severin Fiala, who wrote the original film, adapted the latest version for Prime Video with the help of Kyle Warren (Lethal Weapon). They have an impressive horror pedigree. They both wrote the critically acclaimed The Lodge, and The National Board of Review named the 2015 version as one of the top five foreign films of the year. Their script veers much more towards the psychological. The horror in this version — particularly when the twins interrogate Mother — is watered down compared to the original. However, that doesn’t make the film less effective. Sobel and the writing team do an excellent job building up a crescendo of tension. This, at times, can be spinetingling and be a real armrest grabber.

Yet, while sitting through this gripping premise, the film’s ending may feel like a disappointment or even cheating a bit. Yet, the smoke and mirrors I mentioned above — not just from the main plot but the twin’s hallucinations of demons and other horror-filled images — have a point. The filmmakers have created a modern-day homage to phantasmagoria theatre. This popular form of German horror theatre in the 19th century used a lantern (notice what Watts is carrying during most of the night scenes) that project frightening images (ghosts, demons, skeletons, that sort of thing) to create imaginary imagery for greater effect.

Yes, the horror may be reduced. You can even nitpick at the twist that may be far from the original. Yet, Goodnight Mommy’s surprisingly suspenseful journey and understated twist on the genre outweigh its faults.

What did you think of the Prime Video film Goodnight, Mommy (2022)? Comment below.

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