Funny Games (2008)
My Rating: **.5
In 1997, writer-director Michael Haneke (CACHE) made the controversial Austrian thriller, FUNNY GAMES, about two young men who terrorize a family on vacation.
A decade later, Haneke was convinced by producer Chris Coen to bring the story to America, filming a nearly word-for-word, shot-for-shot English-language version, even re-creating the locations and sets as obsessively as possible. Shortly after Ann (Naomi Watts), George (Tim Roth), and Georgie (Devon Gearhart) arrive in their country home, Peter (Brady Corbet), an eerily polite young man dressed all in white, including odd white gloves, appears on the doorstep, asking Ann if he can borrow some eggs for their neighbor. Peter is joined by Paul (Michael Pitt), and the Leopold-and-Loeb-like duo are soon doing horrible things to Ann, George, and Georgie, torturing them both physically and psychologically (nearly all the violence occurs off-screen), for no apparent reason other than they can, referring to the whole thing as a game. And the biggest game of all is whether the family will be alive at the end. FUNNY GAMES is an intense experience, driven by Haneke’s careful manipulation of both the film itself and the audience. He’s trying to shake up the viewer, even having Paul address the audience directly several times, with Paul fully aware of what he is doing and how the audience is most likely responding.
And in one unforgettable scene, Haneke pulls the cathartic rug right out from under the viewer, playing with the actual medium of cinema in an infuriating and ingenious way. Roth and Watts give outstanding performances as the victims, matched by Pitt and Corbet’s deeply unsettling creepiness. Just as Peter and Paul (who also call themselves Tom and Jerry and Beavis and Butt-Head) alternate between calm and violent, the soundtrack alternates between classical music by Handel, Mozart, and others and hardcore punk from John Zorn and Naked City. Though difficult to watch, FUNNY GAMES is ultimately a rewarding and illuminating film, though not for the squeamish.