“You’re on their side, so who will you bet with?”
I’ve been meaning to write a review for Michael Haneke’s Funny Games since rewatching it Halloween night. I had seen it for the first time around 3-4 years ago on IFC and was blown away by its inventiveness. It definitely holds up today as a sharp thriller and satire for our culture of wanting to see pain and torture on screen. With movies like Saw coming to theatres now, it may be even more relevant than it was in 1997. Word had it that Haneke, after the huge success of his most recent film Caché, would be remaking the film for English language audiences next year. I had reservations about this, but eventually heard it would be a revisioning not a strict copy in English, (although pulling a Gus Van Sant—Psycho—would be cool to satirize America for being too lazy to either learn German or read subtitles that they need a Hollywood adaptation). Whether this is true or not, the film has gotten underway as I’ve heard from an old friend how he has been cast as a stand-in for one of the troubled youths. Although unknowingly, Brett Vanderbrook has finally gotten me on track to review Funny Games with his jogging my memory a couple weeks late.
One knows they are in for a treat right off the bat watching a family drive along a road guessing classical music. All of a sudden the sound cuts to a heavy metal scream and the entire car ride is displayed, complete with the family still swaying their heads, with the jarring guitars and hoarse voice. The family finally reaches their vacation place and sets up to get a fishing excursion going and dinner cooking. When their neighbor’s houseguests come over to help, the film really starts going. These two young boys, played with playful malice by Arno Frish and Frank Giering, begin to mess with the family psychologically until the confrontation escalates to violence. To make the proceedings more fun, they eventually strike a bet on whether the captors will survive the night. This would seem strange at first until the director does the unthinkable and breaks the fourth wall. Yes, the antagonists start to converse with the audience, making the viewer into an accomplice, allowing the torture to continue. Credit Haneke here as the first moment of using the camera as a character is so subtle, one will think, “wow that was weird, I almost thought he was looking at us.”
Funny Games is a comment on the fact that we as moviegoers enjoy to watch torture happen onscreen. We feel safe knowing that the events transpiring are fake, yet feel inclined to watch them play out. By talking to the audience, Haneke is showing that these characters are conscious of their activities and are almost asking the audience if they should continue on their treacherous ways. Of course you could just walk out of the theatre or turn off the tv, but instead you become enthralled and need to see what happens. Just by finishing this film you yourself become that which it is a commentary on. One reason, however, besides the psychological reasoning, keeping you in your seats is the emotionally draining performances by Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe. Their anguish at the helplessness of their situation towards themselves and their son is heartbreaking. They are at the mercy of their captors and must bear with the “games” until their fate is decided. You need to watch the excruciatingly long single take around three-quarters in, and see true cinema greatness. What Orson Welles did technically with his opening to Touch of Evil, Haneke does here emotionally. To be able to change mood from being defeated, to scared, to angry, to helpless, to utter sadness is amazing. If Naomi Watts even comes close in the remake to what Lothar did here, she will be guaranteed that Oscar she was robbed of for Mulholland Dr..
Hopefully Haneke knows what he is doing with a retelling of his brilliant Funny Games. I must admit I recently told my friend Brett that Haneke was a God of cinema, mostly because of the jealousy that he gets to work on a movie with him no matter in what capacity. While that statement is a bit premature, being that I’ve only seen this film by him, I do own his filmography and in the near future will most certainly be able to make that declaration again feeling justified in doing so.
Funny Games 9/10 | ★ ★ ★ ½