Reviews: Naomi Watts and Jon Hamm star in movies to watch at home

‘Good night mom’

The 2014 Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy is a modern genre classic: a deeply disturbing horror story with a brilliant twist and several scenes of almost unbearable tension. The new English-language remake – directed by Matt Sobel from a screenplay by Kyle Warren – softens some of the original’s more extreme moments while retaining key plot points from writers and directors Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. Because of this, fans of the first Goodnight Mommy might find it a pale, pointless copy. But newbies? They should have snuck out appropriately… but unfortunately not destroyed.

The best thing the new version has to offer is its star. Naomi Watts plays a recently divorced mother who is also an aging celebrity whose head is wrapped in a bandage for half of the film due to cosmetic surgery. With Mom’s face hidden, her visiting son Elias (Cameron Crovetti) and his twin brother Lucas (Nicholas Crovetti) are convinced she’s an imposter. It doesn’t help that she’s moodier and chillier than she used to be, or that she’s designated parts of her country estate off-limits.

Watts is terrific in Goodnight Mommy, capturing the same ambiguity and dread that characterized Susanne Wuest’s original performance. When the twins are wrong about Mom, they’re incredibly cruel to her – although her behavior isn’t much better considering how often she snaps and yells. In any case, this haunted show has a tragic dimension.

Sobel and Warren preserve the shocking revelation of the third act of their source material and enact many of the tense sequences in which the kids sneak around and gather evidence. But this “Goodnight Mommy” withdraws too much from the violence and torture that made the original such a sublime ordeal. This is still a disturbing story about what happens when the emotional chasm between parent and child becomes unbridgeable. But this time, the problem feels more theoretical than visceral — like the fading memory of a grave threat.

‘Good night mom.’ R, for a language. 1 hour, 31 minutes. Available on Prime Video

A man in a suit and a woman in a dress are sitting on a couch in the film "house of darkness."

Justin Long and Kate Bosworth in the movie House of Darkness.

(Saban films)

“House of Darkness”

Neil LaBute was an acclaimed playwright before becoming a filmmaker, and while he’s dabbled in comedy, horror, action, and sci-fi throughout his directing career, he’s always been at his best as a playwright, exploring the infinite possibilities of a few people who sit in a room, just talk. His latest “House of Darkness” combines his accomplished stagecraft with his penchant for genre play, for an unassuming dramedy that tells of mythology and the underlying seductive appeal of vampires.

Justin Long plays Hap Jackson, a scruffy management consultant and incorrigible Lothario who, at the beginning of the film, drives Mina (Kate Bosworth), a woman he picked up at a bar, home to her secluded Gothic mansion, where she and Lucy (Gia Croatian). What follows is a lot of conversation – some racy, some uncomfortably pointed – as Hap tries to figure out if any of the ladies will have sex with him, while they try to get him to be honest about what kind of man he is really under his “nice guy” act.

Anyone familiar with the “Dracula” legend should recognize the names Mina and Lucy, and it shouldn’t take long to discover that the women in this house of darkness have sinister plans. But while the material here is thin and mostly predictable (aside from a great jump scare), the cast is superb and the dialogue is snappy and delivered at a brisk pace. Last but not least, “House of Darkness” is unmistakable. This is very much a vampire image by Neil LaBute, in which the fiery predators won’t suck their victim’s blood until they make him feel like a real idiot.

“House of Darkness.” R, for some gory violence/anger, sexual material and language throughout. 1 hour, 28 minutes. Available on VOD

Two colorfully dressed women look surprised as they walk through a door in the film "take revenge"

Camila Mendes (left) and Maya Hawke in the film Do Revenge.

(Kim Simms/Netflix)


Teenage melodrama Do Revenge begins with one of the two leads reading Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train, a classic thriller novel about two desperate people trying to shut down one of their main inspirations through each other’s problems solve murder. The plan in Do Revenge isn’t quite as gory as Highsmith’s, however. Here, two prep school kids from Miami—both publicly embarrassed by their classmates—conspire to nestle against each other’s enemies, learn their secrets, and ruin their lives.

The anti-heroes are played by two superb young actors: Camila Mendes as Drea, a scholarship student who turned into the school’s evil queen before her demise; and Maya Hawke as Eleanor, a nerdy, queer girl who has to become someone else in order to join Drea’s former clique. As is often the case in tales of revenge and deception, the two ladies find their goals and alliances shift as they delve deeper into their respective disadvantages.

Jennifer Kaytin Robinson – creator of the similarly cheeky MTV series Sweet/Vicious – directed and co-wrote Do Revenge with Celeste Ballard. Her story gets unwieldy at times, with so many supporting characters and twists and turns that what should be a short, hard-hitting, unconventional caper picture drags on to a running time of almost two hours. But the bright colors and the trappings of the film’s richness offer a beautiful feast for the eyes. More importantly, Mendes and Hawke bring a great deal of depth and pathos to these characters, who begin to wonder why she and her classmates are so committed to punishing one another.

“Revenge yourself.” TV-MA, for fabrics, language. 1 hour 58 minutes. Available on Netflix

“Drift Home”

At the beginning of Hiroyasu Ishida’s animated feature film Drifting Home, a group of Japanese school kids – some friends, some rivals – sneak into an abandoned apartment complex that they have heard is haunted. Then a torrential downpour floods the surrounding streets, displacing the building and sending the children drifting out to sea where they must scavenge food from the other floating structures they pass. Oh, and it turns out there is actually a ghost hanging around watching them.

That might sound like an odd, over-complicated premise for a movie, but it’s similar to other popular anime films like Weathering With You and Mirai, in which young people navigate a troubled world at the borders between reality and fantasy — and stability and catastrophe – blur. Like those films, “Drifting Home” allows the catastrophes and magical realism to set the stage and drive the story forward, while Ishida and his co-writer Hayashi Mori tell a more personal story about children who feel fearful and alienated.

The main conflict in Drifting Home is between former best friends Kosuke and Natsume, who have been cold towards each other since they both moved away from the same apartment complex that has now become their oversized life raft. As they work together to survive, they reconnect. It may take some time to get used to the deep strangeness of “Drifting Home”. But in this whimsical and boisterous image, the surreal predicament is ultimately just an offshoot of these children’s shared fears of growing up.

‘Floating home.’ In Japanese with English subtitles. Rated PG for thematic material, danger, language, some gory visuals and brief smoking. 1 hour 59 minutes. Available on Netflix

Also on VOD

“Confess, Fletch” is the long-awaited revival of Gregory Mcdonald’s cult-favorite Irwin Fletcher, a rule-breaking investigative reporter who Chevy Chase previously played on film in two 1980s comedies. The new Fletch is played by Jon Hamm in a film by veteran comedy director Greg Mottola, which adapts Mcdonald’s Edgar Award-winning crime thriller about stolen art, missing persons and murder. Available on VOD; also in the theatre

Now available on DVD and Blu-ray

“The amusement park” is a recently rediscovered 1975 educational film from the late, great ‘Night of the Living Dead’ director George Romero, who was asked to illustrate the horrors of ageism and then delivered a grim hour-long nightmare about older men and women who go a cruel way, confusing faire. The new Blu-ray edition includes a commentary track and several featurettes explaining this unusual project. Shudder Reviews: Naomi Watts and Jon Hamm star in movies to watch at home

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