In 1997 Austrian Michael Haneke made ‘Funny Games’, in 2007, 11 years later, it is remade into a shot-by-shot American version.
I watched this film a while ago and it took me a long time to write the review because I am still unsure how I feel about it.
It lies somewhere between brilliant and awful, horrifying and ridiculous, shocking and obvious, but out of all those adjectives the one constant for me is memorable.
I can honestly say that I have never seen a film quite like it and it has been in my head since I saw it.
Funny Games tells the story of a family who go to spend a relaxing vacation in their cabin when they are targeted by two sociopaths intent on making a ‘game’ of their torment.
It stars Naomi Watts (excellent), Tim Roth (believable and good to see back on screen) and Michael Pitt (utterly repellent in his role, as the villain should be).
It is superbly and simply directed, featuring those long shots and still shots that Haneke likes so much.
Its look and feel owes a nod to ‘A Clockwork Orange’, particularly the terrifying politeness that the sociopaths use when discussing the possible deaths of the family, and of course their white outfits also seem iconically influenced.
There is a coldness here that keeps you distant from the family to a certain degree, but they never act in a way that is foolish or nonsensical and that goes a long way with me as stupid victims always bring me out of a movie very quickly.
However, there is more to this film then I have written, it is a film that is aware of being a film and wants to constantly remind the audience of this, by breaking the fourth wall (characters speak directly to the screen, requesting audience involvement), by changing the ‘bad guys’ names throughout the film and by using film in a VERY manipulative way near the end when something most interesting is done by one of the villains – it features a remote.
The director has said that this film is put out as a challenge to those who enjoy screen violence, it’s aim is to make you complicit with what happens to this family, as if you are ‘in on it’ and it has occurred simply to entertain you the audience.
While I can understand what he is getting at and have felt disturbed by some of the films that have been released lately (torture porn sometimes REALLY earns its name) I’m not sure how successful this film will be in making its point. This film has an intelligence about it and a mannered way that means the girls who giggled through Wolf Creek and the guys who egged on The Devils Rejects to even greater heights of depravity will probably not see this type of film.
Those of us who do watch it will feel patronised and a little let down by a film-maker willing to take our money but make us feel bad about watching his film.
Who is he to judge what lesson we must be taught simply because we enjoy horror?
Michael Haneke says “Anyone who leaves the cinema doesn’t need the film, and anybody who stays does.”
What about those who don’t see it but slow down at car wrecks or love the news footage of carnage and sorrow? What judgement is passed on to them?
I enjoy horror films, I enjoy their ability to make us feel real emotions like fear and relief and catharsis and maybe even a laugh or two. I resent a director who feels he has to teach me a lesson for wanting my good vs. evil morality tale (for that’s all horrors really are when you get right down to it).
I believe the horror movie is the best evidence of the culture of a society, it’s our fear that makes us unique and is the most accurate reflection of how we live, our view of the world that surrounds us.
You can watch horrors from the sixties and see the influence of the Vietnam war, presidents being shot, fear of the person next door…
Horrors from the eighties with consumerism and Big Brother looming large.
Maybe the noughts and beyond are a more introspective time, when what we are most afraid of are suburban dramas, killers without humanity and what we ourselves are capable of.
Funny Games is a memorable movie, I’m just not sure it’s a good one.