Ann: “Why don’t you just kill us?”
Peter: “You shouldn’t forget the importance of entertainment.”
I just finished watching the American version of Funny Games, writer/director Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot remake of his own Austrian film of the same name (released in 1997)—and boy do I feel like shit. And that’s the point.
Check out my review after the jump.
Official Synopsis: In this provocative and brutal thriller from director Michael Haneke, a vacationing family gets an unexpected visit from two deeply disturbed young men. Their idyllic holiday turns nightmarish as they are subjected to unimaginable terrors and struggle to stay alive. Remade from his own acclaimed 1997 film, “Funny Games” is written and directed by Michael Haneke (“Caché”), and stars Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet and Devon Gearhart.
Funny Games is a Horror film in the Home-Invasion subgenre, and simultaneously, it’s a condemnation of these same films. The dead silence of the opening credits (red font on a black backdrop) hints at the seriousness of what’s to follow. Funny Games is devoid of glamor, humor, catharsis, or release; it’s merely an exercise in endurance (for the characters and the viewers alike). And while it’s possible to feel sympathy for the family taken hostage, I can almost hear director Haneke taunting me, repeatedly reminding me: “This is what you asked for”.
Like Rope and Murder by Numbers, Funny Games is loosley based on the real life exploits of Leopold and Loeb: A couple of wealthy, 20-something university students who committed a murder just to see if they could get away with it. The duo is notorious for their callous, completely detached view of the violence they perpetrated. Ironically, Michael Pitt, the actor who plays baddie Paul in Funny Games, also played one of the killers in Murder by Numbers. His character in Funny Games, however, is by far the most brutal.
Calling Funny Games “Brutal” is like calling the Pacific Ocean “Damp”—an extreme understatement. I wasn’t surprised to hear that Tim Roth (who plays the husband & father, George) felt abused during the filming and has refused to watch the final product. He also claims that Devon Gearhart, the kid who played George Jr., reminded him too much of his real-life son, thus making this character’s suffering unbearable for him to imagine. Yes, Funny Games is a film that pulls no punches, where pain is distributed liberally amongst the entire family.
Naomi Watts plays Ann with excruciating impact. Her suffering is absolutely palpable. Tears roll from her eyes and mucus flows from her nose as the villains of Funny Games subject her to one painful indignity after the other.
Michael Pitt and Bradley Corbet (as Paul and Peter respectively) are absolutely chilling as good-looking, well-spoken, sadistic sociopaths. While their origins and the exact nature of their relationship are never specified, they have a remarkable chemistry. They’re obvious intelligence combined with their total lack of empathy makes them an especially disturbing duo. As Paul, Pitt would sometimes break the “4th wall” to communicate with the audience. The sickeningly thick subtext is obvious: “This is what you asked for”. It’s proof of the character’s innate evil but, more importantly, this tactic transforms the viewers from innocent onlookers into full on accomplices in these atrocities. “This is what you asked for.”
Funny Games is as problematic as it is brutal. Watching the film is a punishing experience. While other films, like A Serbian Film and The Seasoning House, are (at least) equally devastating, at least these hard-core movies offer a cathartic outlet; Funny Games offers nothing. The cinematography is purposely bland and unassuming which puts all of the film’s emphasis on the bleak story. In a sense, Funny Games is a meta-film: Less of an actual movie and more of a condemnation of the entire Horror genre.
As I squirm and count down the minutes until the film’s conclusion, I’ve got Haneke in my ear the entire time: “Hey, you knew what you were getting into. What, you want an intense experience, but you don’t want it to be too realistic? You enjoy the action, but want nothing to do with the emotional aftermath?” A conversation between Paul and Peter in the Third Act even goes so far as to imply that fictional violence is essentially the same as “real life” violence—thus putting the blame for the character’s suffering squarely on the viewers shoulders. Haneke in my ear: “YOU made this happen”.
And so I find myself wondering about Haneke’s intent. Does he want to terrify us or shame us (or both)? And herein lies the film’s fatal flaw: No one likes to be punished when they’re seeking entertainment. It’s like he tricked Horror fans into the theater only to criticize them for their chosen form of entertainment, paying good money just to be put-down. But just as I’m prepared to give Haneke the old middle-finger salute, I have to tip my hat to a director with such humongous balls. And then it occurs to me: Maybe my righteous indignation stems from the fact that Haneke is revealing truths I’d rather ignore.
But if you still think my description of Funny Games as fatally flawed is an exaggeration, know this: The film was a box office flop. British journalist Geoffrey Macnab included Funny Games‘s lack of success among the reasons for the closure of Tartan Films (the company that co-produced and distributed this film in the UK). So maybe I’ve got a point when I say that people don’t want to pay to see a movie only to feel like the director is wagging his finger at them.
Funny Games is not fun—but it’s deep. While I can’t ever imagine watching this film again (or recommending it to anyone else) I think it would be perfect curriculum for intellectual discourse on the power of movie-violence and it’s implications. While I loathed the experience, the themes explored in Funny Games are important (if extremely unpleasant).
2.5 out of 5 Skull Heads.
|Studio||Warner Independent Pictures|
|Starring||Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart|