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Naomi Watts' young co-stars didn't know about the 'Goodnight Mommy' ending
Goodnight Mommy, the disturbing Austrian horror film, has been remade as more of a psychological thriller starring Naomi Watts — but the young leads didn't know how the original ended.
What scares people obviously ranges wildly, but if there's an alchemy in achieving maximum creeps it's not a bad idea to involve young twins, a locale featuring a decrepit rural barn, and a mother wearing full facial gauze post "surgery." If those elements read familiar, they were the building blocks for the 2014 Austrian horror/thriller, Goodnight Mommy directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. At the time, it got a lot of acclaim in horror circles which prompted Prime Video to make an English version from director Matt Sobel, starring Naomi Watts as the mom and Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti as her twin boys who come to think something is very wrong with mommy.
Not a strict retelling of the original, Sobel's Goodnight Mommy take is less violent and more cerebral as it puts mom and sons under one roof for a fraught few days. Goodnight Mommy premiered on Prime Video on Sept. 16, and SYFY WIRE had some questions, so we got on a Zoom with Watts and the Crovettis to get their perspective on the challenges of finding a fresh way to remake the story, and to find out how Sobel got the young actors to fully immerse themselves in the world without knowing what exactly was going on with their characters.
***Warning: There are spoilers below for Goodnight Mommy.***
Naomi, director Matt Sobel is candid in saying he almost didn't do this remake because the original worked so well. But then he found a creative way into it. Did you have the same initial concerns and what about Sobel's pitch won you over?
Naomi Watts: Yeah, I wrestled with it because of [the original] being a successful film. But that also makes you kind of want to do it. Like, I want to do it better, you know? He really did have a good take on it. I was struck by his intelligence in the first conversation that we had. And then I said, "Look, let me go and see the film," because I hadn't seen it at that point. I had only read the script, which I found wildly compelling. Then I went and watched the film. I wanted to hear his take again to make sure I heard everything right. We ended up having a handful of conversations, and I got there in the end, because I was curious about this woman and what she was going through at this point in time in her life, having these inner demons that she was battling and yet wanting to show up for her children. Then sort of coming undone in the process of not handling the situation well, and making their emotions escalate, and then all this chaos is taking place. And also knowing that he was going to reduce the gore factor and make it more psychological, that drew me in.
You spend half the film in essentially a gauze mask and the rest in your own skin. How did being confined for so long impact your performance?
Watts: I was definitely nervous about it going in. What worked in the movie, the first round telling of it in [Austria], how does that work here in America where we're more hearts on our sleeves and open? And in particular, I can't imagine wearing a mask over my head in front of my children without multiple conversations. [Laughs.] Don't you just relax after a while and take it off? It was a lot of trying to get my head around it. But I found it deeply compelling because with limitations, we find ways to use other tools and double down on those tools. Obviously, the eyes were the most powerful tool. And sometimes being so incredibly still, to have those eyes tell a whole lot of story. And then, of course, in a wide shot, of which there are many, how the body moves all the way down to the fingertips. So, you really had to learn all of that stuff, which I'd remembered from acting school long ago when we did mask work. You find ways to find freedom within very restricted roles.
Nicholas and Cameron, you are playing twin characters who are seeding clues to the audience all the way up through the end. Did Matt Sobel give you performance rules on how to touch or speak to one another in scenes?
Nicholas Crovetti: Well, about the original movie, Matt instructed us actually to not watch it.
Cameron Crovetti: And we weren't allowed to read the very ending of the script.
You didn't know the outcome at all?
Nicholas Crovetti: No, we were in the dark the whole movie about what happened. As we were filming it, we were discovering what's happening to us and our characters, so we're kind of discovering things with the audience as we go through the movie. And then finally, when we did get the ending revealed to us, it was only a couple of days before we were shooting it. When we did find out the ending, it was like, "Oh my gosh, what?" It was so surprising to us because we'd shot this whole thing, not knowing what is gonna happen at the end. And then finally, when we did find out, it was very, shocking. But when we actually shot it, it made the performances so much more real because of finding it out so recently. All the emotions are very fresh, and it really helped our performances.
Did you get any ideas that something odd was happening with these two during production?
Nicholas Crovetti: We tried to ask our parents. Our dad told us something but he lied to us!
Cameron Crovetti: He said the ending was supernatural. And we were like, "Oh, okay."
The ending is one that audiences can interpret in multiple ways. Do you prefer that?
Watts: I think it's best to not go deep into that and let the audience glean from it what they want to. Coming from the school of thought of David Lynch, where nothing is explained or spelled out, he encourages you to go back and watch it a second time and see what you may have missed. And Having the conversation with the person you're watching it with, or the water cooler conversation to dissect it and feel compelled enough to watch it and discuss it as much as you like. Sometimes the negative space leaves room for your mind to become a powerful participant in the movie. We dumb the audience down sometimes with too much explaining and heavy-handed editing, so I think this is a good exercise for people to get really caught up in those twists and turns.
Goodnight Mommy is now streaming on Prime Video.