I just got back from seeing FUNNY GAMES and felt like putting pen to paper, fingers to keys. It’s tough to write about without at least hinting in some way at the ending (I’ll try not to, but seriously, the whole thing is buildup to a specific result). I have avoided reading interviews with writer-director Michael Haneke like the one in the LA Weekly, because I don’t want to judge it by what he thinks he put into it, but rather what I got out of it. I’ve heard enough to have a vague idea what his thoughts are, though.
I haven’t seen a lot of Haneke movies, but I think I should. Judging just by this and CACHE, he’s a master of suspense. Also judging by these two, he doesn’t want to give you a clean resolution to it. There’s a touch of sadism in that, which he would probably call an indictment of sadism, sort of like the way I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is an indictment of sexism, ya dig?
I haven’t seen the original 1997 film, but people I believe say that this is practically a shot-for-shot remake. What we have is a nice couple, Tim Roth and Naomi Watts, with a cute kid, who suffer a home invasion from two freakishly Aryan youths in golf gear (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbett) who alternately call themselves Peter and Paul, or Beavis and Butt-head (religion AND profanity mocked in one go!). After entering the house under polite pretenses, this deadly duo deliberately start provoking the happy family, escalating into all out violence and torture, at which point Paul and Peter make a bet that their captives won’t live through the night, and begin playing various degrading “games.”
A couple of times, Pitt’s character “breaks the fourth wall” and addresses the audience, toying with our expectations of what would normally happen in a movie with this set-up. It doesn’t feel overly cute when he does so, but then, late in the movie, he does something else that doesn’t just violate the reality of the movie, but also basically flips the entire audience a huge middle finger. If these villains can break the rules of reality itself — a reality that has been painstakingly established as a harsh and “realistic” one (a good hit with a golf club provides a devastating injury, where a typical studio movie would probably play it off as temporary and minor) what hope is there? And what point does the rest of the story serve with that established? Much of what remains features the baddies summarizing various fictional devices and philosophies, but it plays more as mockery than anything significant; earlier, they have explicitly made fun of the idea that anything is motivating them or has “made” them the way they are.
The “games” aspect could be seen as a rebuke to the SAW series, in which the deadly games are survivable, but the original predates SAW, so probably not. Pitt’s character has something of an iconic horror villain about him, despite the fact that the clear intention here is to rebuke such things. Haneke has indicated that he’s offering an indictment of the audience’s desire for violence, and he does it by…giving it to us? Granted, much of the gore is offscreen, but so it goes in a lot of studio horror movies.
No, our punishment for liking violence is a lack of catharsis. So how is this any different from, say, David DeFalco’s CHAOS, where rednecks brutalize and kill victims without any retribution? CHAOS was all about the gore, and FUNNY GAMES is more artful, but to claim that one tortures its audience for the right reasons and another for the wrong reasons is to nitpick. Torture hurts.
And those of you who were repulsed by the Countess Bathory scene in HOSTEL II but defend FUNNY GAMES — the scene where Naomi Watts is forced to strip to keep her son from being hurt is somehow morally better? You don’t think anybody got wood from seeing her in her underwear, even under the circumstances?
That said, I do recommend the movie for those who like seriously hardcore suspense. That’s what I liked about it the most. The violence is absolutely uncomfortable, but I think that point could have been amply made without the violation of reality that happens. Good job, Michael, you really pissed me off with that. I guess that was the intent.