The bandages that envelope Naomi Watts’ mysterious mother character in Prime Video’s Goodnight Mommy were a narrative element that the film’s cast and creative team say challenged them on set, but also helped better tell their emotionally infused version of the Austrian psychological horror film.
Director Matt Sobel, writer Kyle Warren, Watts and young actors Cameron and Nicholas Crovetti were on hand during the film’s New York premiere at The Metrograph Wednesday night to discuss the film based on the 2014 feature helmed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala.
In the 2022 take, Elias (Cameron) and Lukas (Nicholas) are two twin brothers who come to stay with their mother on her sprawling and remote country property. But when they arrive, they find her face wrapped in bandages, the result of recent cosmetic surgery.
Her obscured face fuels a growing paranoia among the boys, who view their mother’s erratic and increasingly angry demeanor as unsettling and eventually even frightening, convincing them that the woman under the gauze is not their mother.
On the carpet, the team and cast discussed that one element of Watts’ wardrobe that acts almost as a character all its own: the bandages. For Watts, wearing the bandages while acting opposite her younger co-stars made her more careful about how they interacted on set.
“There was a lot of talking. As a parent now, I always worry about my children getting cut or living with dark thoughts and so it’s always important to talk as much as one can with them. I was just as worried about these kids because I don’t know them and I’m doing strange things and sometimes yelling and sometimes getting physical,” Watts tells THR. “So I just had to keep checking in, not just with them, but their mother.”
For Cameron and Nicholas, while much of their time on set with Watts saw her under the gauze, the duo explained that they did have the chance to rehearse with the actress without the face covering.
“When we did the table read and we would rehearse scenes before — because we got to meet her before we saw her on set with the bandages — so we knew what she looked like,” they say.
To help them act opposite Watts, Cameron said eye contact was key to their performances, with Nicholas adding that it was also about responding to “the tone of her voice, too.”
“When we shot the scenes, we had to really make eye contact. I feel it was very important because you couldn’t see her face or facial expressions, so you were just paying attention to her eyes,” Cameron says. “You had to really find specific things to play off her emotions because you couldn’t see your whole face. It was a bit of a challenge but it was very fun and we got used to it.”
Watts said the twins’ arrived on set working as “seasoned professionals,” which made her feel “a bit more comfortable” while working with them during the film’s more intense moments.
“But it’s still scary. Each take is a different take and even as planned as you make it, something can happen. Some scenes were a lot more difficult than others because of that,” she says. “I just wanted to make sure they were always OK. Sometimes we would break the tension by making sure that we’re telling jokes or we’re playing a game, so they don’t almost sort of short circuit with the possibility of dark thoughts taking hold.”
For writer Warren, the bandages narratively in some ways “made it easier to make it terrifying.”
“You could rely on the opaqueness of her expression to create a sense of mystery in the boys and in the audience,” Warren tells THR. “I knew going in there was always going to be something pretty unreadable about what she wanted to express between the walls that this character has put up in her own life and the physical wall on top of her face. It made it possible to create a lot of mystery both for the boys and for the audience.”
Sobel said they were “a major asset to me as a storyteller” because they helped build the first act’s tension, “which is created because we cannot see everything that we need to see to understand.”
“We can’t hear the other sides of conversations that we need to to understand and we’re tantalized by these pieces of information that don’t yet form a full picture,” the Goodnight Mommy director says. “So ways I was able to obscure what’s actually going on and hopefully make the audience lean in because they want to know, I always found to be useful tools and the bandages are just one of those.”
Goodnight Mommy is now streaming on Prime Video.