Do not go see Funny Games. Do not go anywhere near Funny Games. This malicious and fetishistic shot-for-shot remake from writer/director Michael Haneke (The Piano Teacher, Cache) is comparable only to a bloody and body-mangling car collision. It appeals solely to our initial curiosity to see something that will disturb us and make us suddenly regret ever wanting to see it again.
This goal is easily accomplished in the film’s first twenty minutes which, without an ounce of blood, crescendos into Hitchcockian levels of suspense and unease. Once the shocking, initial act of violence has taken place, however, the film quickly spirals into a cruel and detestable freak show comprised of nothing but sadistic, drawn-out murder sequences.
The film follows an affluent American family (played by Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and child actor Devon Gearhart) who drive up to their vacation home somewhere in New England, only to find two young men (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) in matching white outfits standing outside of their door. The boys claim they need eggs for a recipe but they refuse to leave the family’s home after receiving them. One of the boys, who calls himself Paul (Pitt), asks to borrow George’s (Roth) golf club and proceeds to beat their golden retriever to death with it and then snap George’s leg apart. The two men then usher the family into the living room and proceed to torture them individually for the entirety of the film.
Michael Haneke, who felt compelled to remake his 1997 German version for an American audience, has said in recent interviews that he believes that moviegoers, especially American ones, are too desensitized to onscreen violence and that Funny Games is an appropriate reaction to such a perversion. If we enjoy this film, we are seen as accomplices in these acts of torture; if we detest this film, we are seen as hypocrites who are getting a dose of our own medicine. Either way, we are punished and pigeonholed by Haneke as being a small part of a bigger, societal malady. In three different parts of the film, Paul looks into the camera and asks us, “Are you enjoying this?” Either way we answer, we have still, somehow, fallen into the film’s broad set of accusations.
The actors, for their part, immerse themselves into their roles and Watts especially delivers a gut-wrenching performance of extraordinary courage. But despite the convictions of its actors, Haneke’s film not only fails to address the issue of violence, but it inadvertently sensationalizes the very subject that Haneke vehemently critcizes.
Either way, a director should never talk down to his audience and force them to submit to his own self-righteous, all-encompassing message. If we are not allowed to formulate our own thoughts during a film, then the film itself becomes a work of exploitation, not a work of art, and that is exactly what Funny Games dissolves into by the end of its perverse, narrow-minded hour and forty five minute running time.