Following the story of twins who visit their mother and start to suspect she may not be who she claims to be, Goodnight Mommy tries its hardest to pack a heavy punch with its third act, so much so that its first and second act just aren’t half as compelling. Its runtime may only be ninety minutes, but the film feels so much longer, and by the time it gets to its climax, only the most patient of viewers will be left to see its outcome.
The filmmakers trust too heavily that its mystery will have audience members watching until the very end. The film chooses to reveal everything in its last act instead of dropping tidbits of answers here and there, making waiting for the mystery to be solved feel like a chore. There is no real sense of gruesome danger within the first hour of the film, no real threat or urgency.
Sure, the mom may be an imposter, but the film gives us no reason to fear for the kids other than the fact that Mother often goes through mood swings which causes her to lash out. Yes, she does awful things when she lashes out, but these are actions that would fit more a drama film than a horror one. There’s nothing macabre here, nothing that really threatens the twins’ lives.
There are a few traditionally horror-esque scenes in the film, but these scenes feel forced and desperate with some of them just being dream sequences, almost like they were added just so that people remembered they were watching a horror film. It doesn’t help either that the twins aren’t characters particularly worth caring for.
Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti both give good performances as Elias and Lucas respectively, Cameron being a particular standout, but neither of them can save bad character writing. Elias and Lucas are just boring and uninteresting characters, really only existing to be suspicious of Mother and not much else. It’s often hard to tell them apart — they don’t even feel like fully finished main characters, more like sketches or outlines of main characters.
This is an even bigger problem when you consider the film really only has three characters — Elias, Lucas, and Mother. Some other characters pop in and out but the majority of the film sees the appearance of just these three, and when two-thirds of the main characters are painfully uninteresting, it turns the entire experience into such a slog. There is, of course, Mother, whose true nature is kept intentionally vague, but the film is so dull and monotonous otherwise there’s very little reason to finish it other than the need to know who Mother really is.
Still, Naomi Watts does give a good performance, and the third act sees some really terrific acting from her as Mother. However, the film can’t get by on her performance alone, especially since it seems hell bent on keeping its secrets completely closed until the final act. Sure, her performance may be unsettling, but it’s also a little exhausting. How many times must we see this woman go through mood swings and lash out before the film finally tells us if she is who she claims to be or not?
Given that this is a remake of an Austrian film, one that was incredibly well-received during its release, it’s evident that a story like this can work and has worked in the past before. However, unlike its remake, the original film has multiple moments filled with dread, tension, and unease, and the filmmakers were smart enough to spread these moments all throughout the film and not just during its final half hour.
Goodnight Mommy tells an initially intriguing story but relies too much on secrecy in order to keep its audience interested. The lack of atmosphere and thrill takes a serious toll on the film, and its overdone attempts at giving us a memorable ending are effective but it doesn’t provide much else. Sure, the big reveal might have you curiously considering rewatching the film in order to see if everything makes sense, but the dry and boring nature of the first two acts might have you deciding otherwise.
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Goodnight Mommy provides nothing a horror fan would find satisfying except for maybe its ending, but the journey getting there is such a slog that it just isn’t worth it.
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