A director retelling the same story usually extricates nothing spectacular – George Sluizer tried it with his Dutch captive thriller Spoorloos (few years later remade in USA by the same director), Eli Roth with his horror-wonder Cabin Fever. But Michael Haneke delivered one of very few remakes that did outbeat the original version.
A happy family of three – Ann (Naomi Watts), George (Tim Roth) and their son (Devon Gearheart) – arrives at their cabin by the lake to spend vacation. As they drive by their neighbors, they notice two weird men – Peter (Brady Corbet) and Paul (Michael Pitt), who soon appear at their house too. Only then does begin a nightmarish game of violence.
Somewhere between one hellish torture and the other, weeping and exhausted Ann asks the two men why don’t they kill them right ahead. The response is a thrilling definition of the film: “You shouldn’t forget the importance of entertainment.” And unequivocally, this line is a sarcastic commentary about modern enterntainment – the number of films including overwhelmingly graphic violence and explicit language truly terrifies. However, Haneke doesn’t show the bleeding limbs and blood spilled – on the contrary, what interests him is the psychology of the victim, the submission towards the two psychopaths – how the actual “game” is played. The director takes his time to observe how Ann and George panic, how they lack a clear head in their decisions, how numerous are their mistakes. Even though their bane is inevitable and the viewer is supposed to know it from the scratch, Haneke asks the question directly using Paul – do you feel entertained?
The answer is right away given – it’s hard not to be entertained. Funny Games is an impressively acted spectacle, in which the two main stars are Naomi Watts and Michael Pitt. The blonde actress delivers a heartbreaking performance as the blackmailed, driven-to-the-edge woman, but it’s Pitt who really steals the show. Beginning from the idea for the golf-themed appearance (ironically white color as the biblical symbol of innocence), Pitt’s character is a reject baby of The Clockwork Orange family and Hannibal Lecter. He’s menacing, blood-curdling, even repelling, but at the same time strangely hypnotizing. Paired up with more socially awkward and psychotic Brady Corbet as Peter, these two are haunts hard to get rid of one’s mind.
Nevertheless, Funny Games could be difficult to be fully enjoyed as a spine-chilling thriller. Some may find the prolonged observation of the victims highly disturbing, too real and raw. Others will see this whole story a bit cliche, an invasion-themed thriller like Strangers. Yet, there is some unprecedented brilliance in Funny Games – whilst majority of those chillers are supposed to be fun, Funny Games counters its title. The entertainment is the guilty pleasure, which throughout the film shifts into guilty conscience of the viewer.
All in all, Funny Games is an intriguing thriller, proving that Haneke was indeed the enfant prodige of the German cinema, as once claimed. And following the main idea of the film, entertainment is like a drug, just like violence – the more danger we feel, sitting comfortably in our beds, the better. But what if ones like Peter and Paul wander somewhere around, looking for another victims?
UMP Grade: 41/50