There is nothing inherently wrong with remakes. The telling and retelling of tales is a practice as old as humanity. But with the ability to record and mass produce books and films comes the question: “Is this necessary?” The bar for this isn’t that high. Some films hold up well but come from an era of limited visual effects where a modern retelling can open up the world far beyond what was possible years ago, while others have gained a sense of notoriety far after initial release and deserve a more polished adaptation. There is a low end to that bar, though, which only exists because Americans don’t like subtitles. This particular subgenre has the occasional bright spot such as The Ring (Naomi Watts has a type, I suppose) and Let Me In, but for the most part, we’re stuck with hollow, bland interpretations like Inside and Martyrs. Unfortunately, 2022’s version of Goodnight Mommy falls into the latter category.
The 2014 Danish version of Goodnight Mommy is an almost unbearably tense film, a nightmarish tennis match between mother and sons, leaving the audience unsure which side to take until the gut punch twist ending. Knowing how a movie ends will naturally alter the way a viewer takes in the opening two thirds of the story, but a good movie takes into account rewatchability. For example, Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz’s version is just as tense on multiple viewings. The focus is just shifted, and we have a clear favorite in the tennis match. Unfortunately, Mike Sobel’s remake sacrifices that subtlety in an attempt to manufacture a stressful atmosphere by having the titular Mommy’s (Naomi Watts) actions so horribly contrived to serve the plot that they make no sense once everything is revealed. I imagine this will curtail any chance of repeat viewings, even by those who are going into Goodnight Mommy (2022) without having seen the original.
Let’s not get too deep into Negative Town as there are some positives here. The remake nails the casting as Naomi Watts plays well off of Nicholas and Cameron Crovetti, and the youngsters more than hold their own, showing off some solid range in some challenging roles. Sobel succeeds in creating an effectively claustrophobic environment. Most of the film takes place in a single environment that can either feel expansive with plenty of hiding places or oppressively tightknit to the point where the characters seem to be falling over each other. If there is a complaint about the direction, it’s that the squeaky-clean aesthetic doesn’t quite match the mood when the narrative requires anxiety from the audience. There’s also the fact that the mask the mother is wearing is quite distracting, more of an alternate design for 2020’s The Invisible Man than something worn after a medical procedure.
Speaking of the mask, this was the first movie since the Covid outbreak where I would have liked to see it roped into the narrative. The theme of societal mistrust to those wearing masks has been forever changed since the release of the first film. While a mom constantly behind a mask was a believably jarring thing for children to see in 2014, that’s not so much the case in 2022. There was an opportunity here to make Goodnight Mommy feel meta without necessarily needing to be tongue in cheek about it, using the current world climate to its advantage and exploring some new themes. Even a simple approach like having the police wearing masks so the kids are constantly having to question the adults they interact with or having the kids unmasking upon entry before seeing their masked mother; there was just a lot here left unturned.
Goodnight Mommy commits another common sin amongst Americanized remakes in that it shies away from the brutal nature of its predecessor. The sequences from the original that got under the skin are watered down here to the point they neuter the movie from being fully effective. Therefore, for fans of the original, I cannot recommend investing the time in the remake. For those that have not seen the 2014 film, do yourself a favor and think of the subtitles as a small price to pay for a much better experience.