DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Funny Games

Friday 4 May 2012

Funny Games

Funny Games (2008) dir. Michael Haneke
Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet


By Alan Bacchus

Funny Games is a simple story about a husband, wife and their young boy who become victims of a home invasion by a pair of bourgeois psychopaths. Haneke skewers the slasher/horror film genre by avoiding all salacious aspects of these other films, instead building suspense to excruciating levels before letting it out with shocking force. Putting aside the debate about whether his original 1997 film needed to be remade at all, Haneke has redelivered one of the most frightening film experiences you’ll ever see.

Having seen the original and knowing his other work, I was completely confident in Michael Haneke’s ability to deliver the goods. He is no sell-out, that’s for sure. Haneke has a sick mind, and as one of cinema's 'Enfant Terribles', my only curiosity was how far he would go. Here he has created essentially a shot-for-shot remake of his original. The only difference being the different actors playing the roles. It’s still a sick and twisted experience with very little lost in the translation.

The film begins so innocently. Ann (Watts) and George (Roth) arrive at their serene country home for a weekend of relaxation. Ann hears a knock on her door and meets Peter (Brady Corbet), a polite young man dressed in Wimbledon white, who kindly asks for some eggs. Ann obliges, but the simple request becomes an awkward and soon annoying lengthy game of words. Peter is then joined by Paul (Michael Pitt), Peter’s equally polite friend and accomplice. Ann senses some pushiness and she asks the pair to leave. When George arrives the argument turns violent and he is hit on the knee, handicapping him for the rest of the film.

The pair of psychopaths hold the family hostage for the evening. Violence is rarely threatened, as their insincere faux politeness clearly masks their hidden agenda of torture and humiliation. It will take Ann’s strength of will to find her way out of the situation and save her family.

Haneke is hyper-aware of his audience and their expectations for such a film. And so Funny Games is as much about torturing the audience as the characters. Haneke can do shock and awe as good as anyone – remember the gruesome throat-slash in Cache? Or the room destruction scene in Seventh Continent? And there are some shock and awe moments in Funny Games – specifically the long take showing us the aftermath of one of the violent acts. But it’s Haneke’s skills in building terror and suspense and agonizing discomfort in the audience that is the marvel. Paul and Peter’s games are sick, but watch the effect of Haneke’s subtle shot selection and camerawork. He doesn’t waste a shot and cuts away only when necessary. The opening moments before Peter knocks on the door are made agonizing by Haneke’s placement of the camera. He uses an old Polanski movie trick by shooting Watts against an open door in the background. The horror comes from the anticipation of filling the space behind it.

Haneke breaks the fourth wall on numerous occasions. This is an old cinema trick as well, but he maximizes its effect at one crucial point when he cruelly rewinds the film in front of our eyes and replays the scene again with less satisfying results for the characters and, thus, the audience. It’s Haneke at his cockiest, showing us his manipulation of the audience up front and in our faces.

Funny Games U.S. could never top his original film. Having familiar faces in the lead roles and the fact it's the second time around certainly lessens the impact. But at the very least he will also expose new audiences to one of the most disturbing and sick films ever made. I also get satisfaction knowing that some people, going by the title, will see the film by accident, thinking it's a comedy. I'd watch it over and over again just to see people's reactions after leaving the theatre.


noribori said...

There's an elephant in the room and you seem determined not to mention it: why should someone want to watch "one of the most disturbing and sick films ever made"? To recognize old cinema tricks? Or "just to see people's reactions after leaving the theatre"? Really? To feel superior to other people?

I love Haneke's movies, especially "Code Unknown" and "The White Ribbon", but I've avoided to watch this one (or the original one). It seems to aim at people who enjoy watching sadistic and sick violence in movies. It seems to be a moralistic tale showing that the spectator is the real monster because he's responsible for the violence. At least that's what I understood from reading different reviews.

So, why should I watch such a movie, especially if I don't consider myself a sick violence loving person?

Having said that, I also should mention that I recently commented on your Hunger Games review . I actually enjoyed that movie, but not so much your review.
You wrote "..., I don't disapprove of spilling the blood of minors for the sake of entertainment." But you complained about "Blood or not, we don't even get to see some cool action." And "How do you tell a story about such a sick and twisted blood sport which inexorably leads to everyone dying and not have it violent, grisly bloody and thus rated R? Simple, you cheat the audience, and deliver a syropy and soft ultra light version of Battle Royale, the monumentally superior version of this story made in Japan in 2001. "

There are obviously different points of view towards the use of violence as entertainment and the possibility to criticize that or to make that the central theme of a movie. In my opinion the limited use of violence has more credibility than delivering violence without reserve and throwing it into the face of the public.

My fear is that Funny Games could be one of those sadistic violent movies and that's why I didn't watch it yet. Maybe I'm wrong and it isn't, but I haven't read a review clearing up that point.

Alan Bacchus said...

Thanks for your comment Noribori. Indeed I don't advise you see Funny Games. It's for a certain audience, who likes to be scared out their wits. But it's important to note that the film is not that 'violent' per se. There very little blood shed, in comparison to other horror films. Which is why the film is so fascinating. Haneke creates such immense fear and suspense from his performances. For me, Hunger Games produced no suspense or fear for it's characters despite being a similarly disturbing situation.