Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart. Rated R.
It’s hard to imagine why anyone
would want to subject themselves to the harrowing brutality of Funny
Games, but give German-born filmmaker Michael Haneke his due –
his movie is shockingly effective in its depiction of a well-to-do family
paralyzed by a terrifying home invasion. What he hoped to accomplish is
anyone’s guess: Funny Games is
scene-for-scene U.S. remake of Haneke’s own decade-old film set in Austria.
Nothing is lost in translation, even if Haneke’s occasional Beavis
Butt-head references now seem dated, and
perhaps that is some sort of perverse achievement. Ten years later, abject
cruelty still resonates.
Clearly, Haneke is daring us to
turn away, confident that our voyeuristic fascination with violence will trump
our revulsion. And it’s hard to argue. Funny Games is at once repellent and hypnotically absorbing, and not
simply because of Michael Pitt’s terrifying performance as a serial killer
styled, one suspects, after Alex, the Beethoven-obsessed sadist from A
Clockwork Orange. It plays on media-fueled
suburban paranoia with manipulative ease, thrusting us into a waking nightmare
ripped from the headlines.
That doesn’t mean it’s
watch. When Paul (Pitt, of The Dreamers)
and Peter (Brady Corbet) first enter the countryside summerhouse of their
latest victims, their mockingly polite conversation is as transparent as their
intentions. They say “please” and “thank you” as if mocking the good manners
their hosts have come to expect, and before long their hollow posturing gives
way to naked hostility. That’s hardly a shock – we know what’s coming, we just don’t
know how or when.
All semblance of civility is
annihilated with one swing of a golf club, as Peter breaks character just long
enough to reveal himself as a predatory sociopath in love with the creation of
fear. He apologizes, of course, but the damage is done. George (Tim Roth) is
left writhing on the floor, clutching his shattered knee and helpless to
protect Ann (Naomi Watts) and 10-year-old Georgie (Devon Gearhart) from the
drawn-out torture awaiting them.
If that makes Funny Games sound anything like Saw or
Hostel, which eagerly rewarded audiences with the graphic dismemberment they knew to expect, think again. Haneke is
less interested in on-screen mutilation than in the suggestion of violence, and his restraint is far more affecting. He never
attempts to explain Peter and Paul's bloodlust – they are monsters, plain and simple, giggling their
way from one victim to the next. Their very existence is grotesque, but entirely natural in the bleak, remorseless world Haneke
envisions. Is it a world any rational soul would care to visit? Surely not, but it's hard to forget.