Twin brothers arrive at their mother’s house and begin to suspect that something isn’t right. Remake of the 2014 Austrian film.Goodnight, Mommy (2022) Synopsis
Q: How did you get involved with Goodnight Mommy?
Matt Sobel: I was dragged in kicking and screaming. No, I’m just kidding. I am not a fan of remakes though. So, when I was approached about this I said it was not for me because I didn’t, at the time, have an idea of what would justify a remake’s existence. I don’t think just catering to people who are too lazy to read subtitles is enough of a justification for me.
But, it wasn’t really until I had a conversation with a friend of mine, Kyle Warren – who would end up writing this movie – that I…we kind of came up with a…maybe a different way of framing what a remake is and less about translating something literally from German into English. And more about – I’ll use the word transcribing because I think that the process is more similar to like taking a melody from one key and transcribing it into another and giving it, in the process, a whole set of different emotional valences.
We would take the story…elements of the story from the original and reshape them so that they could foreground the themes that we were interested in. New themes that are not present in the original and perhaps even a new genre – different from the original film. And specifically, those things that were interesting to us at the time and were really, actually, still remain very interesting to me and are kind like the heart of every project I’m working on right now – not just Goodnight Mommy. [The theme is] a story about the human need to see ourselves as the perpetual heroes or victims of our own lives…and the ways in which we will lie to ourselves. lie to other people, kind of shift the reality that we live in so that will always be true. [That] is very interesting to me. It’s very scary to me.
It seems very topical to me and I saw in Goodnight, Mommy a chance to take the elements of [the] story from the original that I found compelling and kind of, like, reshape them to map on top of that theme. And so I would say while the original film is about a boy who cannot bear to be alone, I would say that our film is about a boy who cannot bear to be at fault. And all the major differences between the films kind of sprung out of that idea.
Q: Did you and Kyle work really closely together on making all these changes and making the film your own?
Matt Sobel: Yeah. He might disagree with me if he was here, but we – I would say that we collaborated very closely on both the writing and directing. So, like he is the writer, I’m the director, but he was there…we kind of like almost like co-wrote and directed it. Almost.
Q: Talk to me about the casting choice of Naomi Watts. The film is shrouded in mystery about is she or isn’t she the mother, BUT Naomi is incredibly recognizable.
Matt Sobel: You know what, though, when she showed up on the first day with the mask we were like – are people gonna know that’s Naomi? Cause, like, it’s hard to tell who someone is with that mask on and without her doing her normal accent. But we thought let’s lean into it, let’s play into it that this is a recognized person. Let’s have people in the world, you know like recognize her and imagine that she is this, you know, actress. We use her actual, Naomi Watts actual headshot in the movie.
We were thinking these boys know their mother’s public persona, maybe even more than they know who their mother really is. She plays a mother so many times. So, we thought what if the picture they’re using to recognize their mother is her personal, not like a home photograph of her? That was an interesting piece of theme or something.
Q: When it comes to directing, the film looks different as well. Where did you get your inspiration there?
Matt Sobel: That spun out of the different in theme I mentioned earlier. The original is very much shot in an observational, very cold, very austere aesthetic that treats all the characters quite democratically. It’s about 3 people…or maybe it is. Our film is very much, I guess spinning out of that theme difference it was very important for this film to be about…we’re watching the movie inside Elias’s head.
Elias is the main character. It’s a story about a boy who is struggling with this human need that we spoke about earlier. So, it makes sense that he is decidedly the main character. We’re watching the movie in his mind. We are stuck inside his head for the film. Things that he can’t see, we can’t see. Things that only he can see, we can only see. Our decisions about how to shoot it and how it looked came from wanting to foreground that subjectivity over objectivity.
Q: Talk to me about working with Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti. Finding young actors that can pull something like this off is difficult.
Matt Sobel: I know. Terrifying, really. I was so scared that we would never be able to make this movie because Kyle was writing some really tough stuff for kids to do. I was like, I don’t know. But then I got the tape [of Cameron and Nicholas and I said] let’s just figure out how we can get them/when we can get them. I had come, all of the other films I had worked on all starred children for – I don’t do this on purpose, I don’t know why. I came with all of these techniques and tricks to try and get performances out of a child in a different way than I would out of an adult. And to be perfectly honest, I didn’t use any of the tricks. The Crovetti brothers are really just that good.
I told them, I spoke to them exactly how I spoke to Naomi. I told them what we needed to do and they just did it. The one thing that I will say is we withheld the end of the story from them until their last week of shooting. They hadn’t seen the original and we gave them a script that ended on page 85 and said: To be continued. So, for the course of the shoot they were trying to guess – is this our mom? What’s really going on here? And so there was perhaps more authenticity than there would have been otherwise in so far as the mystery because the boys themselves were curious. They didn’t know.
And they would come up to me with a lot of theories, and stuff while we were shooting. And I’d be like….well…I dunno…I can’t say.
Goodnight, Mommy is now streaming on Prime Video! Check it out.