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Overall Rating

Awesome: 23.91%
Worth A Look30.43%
Average: 6.52%
Pretty Bad: 15.22%
Total Crap: 23.91%

4 reviews, 22 user ratings

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Funny Games (2008)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Whatever you're expecting, this still isn't it."
5 stars

In 1998, Michael Haneke polarized critics and art-house audiences with his Austrian film "Funny Games." Now he has made the same movie — literally, beat for beat and almost shot for shot (some angles do differ) — with an English-speaking cast. Is there a point to this? Sure.

The original film used a home-invasion scenario to dig out the audience's pet expectations from a movie. Those expectations were surgically removed one by one. Haneke always wanted to make Funny Games for an American audience, but he couldn't pull the financing together. Now he has, and the two versions of the film differ ever so subtly. For one thing, in the 1998 film, the affluent couple (Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mόhe) are introduced in their car, playing guessing games with classical music — who's the composer and who performed it? It's somehow easier to accept an Austrian couple doing this than an American couple, and the Austrian couple wouldn't necessarily have to be rich — Austria, after all, is the country that produced Haydn, Handel, Mahler, and Mozart. An Austrian audience wouldn't find their knowledge of classical music all that unusual. But when Naomi Watts and Tim Roth play the same game at the start of Funny Games US, they unavoidably come off as elitists. Probably liberal elitists. Rich liberal elitists. The deck is stacked against them from the beginning.

In the language of such films, the milquetoast golfer husband might find it in himself to meet violence with violence, like Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs. Or the wife would use her smarts to triumph, like Jodie Foster in Panic Room. Haneke isn't speaking that language. In this meta-narrative, the situation doesn't exist to bring out anyone's heroism. The two white-clad evil angels (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) who terrorize Watts, Roth and their young son (Devon Gearhart) are like jaded gods or aliens who've landed in this gated community for the sole purpose of examining human fear and pain in extremis. This isn't the first family these two have tormented, and it won't be the last. Watching Funny Games US after having seen the original rewards you with some chilling insights you might miss the first time around; when we first meet Paul (Pitt), the brains of the two, he's in the company of a rather subdued man. Earlier, when Watts and Roth are driving past their neighbors, the folks are acting a bit odd. A little too tentative, too quiet. The neighbors, of course, are standing outside with Paul and his sheepish cohort Peter (Corbet). Whatever horrors the neighbors have already undergone or been threatened with are left to our imagination.

A filmmaker can say things about his movie, but the film itself might rudely contradict him. Haneke has always talked up Funny Games as a sour but necessary tonic for a benumbed audience. Theoretically, the film confronts us with our own responses to violent entertainment. This may be what Haneke thinks the film does, or would like to think it does. But in reality the audience responds most readily to the sadists. Pitt and Corbet are more attractive than the original duo (Arno Frisch and Frank Giering), and the jokes are more colloquial and their meaning isn't filtered through subtitles (interestingly, Lodge Kerrigan was the script consultant). There's more tension when the sadists are around, more drama. Concurrently, we enjoy the suffering of the victims because that suffering is so precisely and skillfully acted (in both versions), drenched in the sort of painful realism we don't often see in movies. This Funny Games also looks ravishing at all times (in stark contrast to the grainy-video look of the Austrian version), courtesy of cinematographer Darius Khondji. What was once grubby and DIY, something like Haneke's previous Benny's Video, is now sleek and heartless, like mid-period Kubrick.

So I don't believe what Haneke says his film is about. The film doesn't believe it either. It got away from him, both times, and did what it wanted to do, as art is known to do. Organically, it's a revenge flick without the revenge, using our bloodlust to lubricate a larger statement about art versus entertainment. A newcomer to Funny Games will sit through all the terror and pain as long as it's understood that a comeuppance is in store. When there isn't one — in fact, all attempts are either thwarted or rudely withdrawn — the film flirts with existential pointlessness. And that's not what we want from a story. Well, what do we want from a story? If we just want to see what we want to see, why do we bother with anything new at all?

In any event, I do believe there's a point to Funny Games, and there's a point to remaking it so exactly. The first version arrived as sort of a one-off, best viewed in the context of Haneke's other early work. The remake arrives at a time when we seek closure of some sort — the end of the war in Iraq, or the end of so much else that's gone terribly wrong. But there is no clear end on the horizon, simply more suffering and more trauma. We crave cultural triumphalism as comfort food — stories with clearcut good guys and bad guys, with the bad guys roundly defeated. Haneke, who hails from a country that actually got annexed into Nazi Germany, knows the world doesn't work that way. "Who controls the past controls the future," wrote George Orwell. "Who controls the present controls the past." The quote lends added weight to the much-maligned remote-control scene, in which one of the evil angels controls the past, present, and future. At heart, Funny Games is about the totalitarianism of cinema itself.

With the simplest of premises — which, by the way, works frighteningly well as a thriller without resorting to the old tired jumps and stings — the movie exposes the creative fascism at the core of any narrative, in which people are moved about like so many pawns for obscure purposes somehow agreed upon thousands of years ago. "Funny Games" kills movies and kills itself.

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originally posted: 04/04/08 14:47:24
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Horror Remakes: For more in the Horror Remakes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/14/18 Louise Gonsalves you are a genius! Even though this film didn't need to be remade/ 4 stars
10/30/16 morris campbell authentic but morbid no thrills just unpleasantness 1 stars
6/17/12 Jeffrey Dahmer Disturbing and REPULSIVE. 1 stars
5/18/12 Man Out Six Bucks Typical creepy catholic psycho spawn straight out of "Martyrs" 4 stars
5/13/12 Flipsider A History of Violence accomplishes the same thing in a much smarter way. 3 stars
8/24/11 chris What's wrong with you people? This is just cruelty the movie nothing more. 1 stars
10/16/09 Anonymous This was disturbing and thought provoking... 4 stars
3/03/09 mr.mike A formulaic ending would have rendered it more routine...and more satisfying. 3 stars
1/28/09 Andrew Interesting story, yet unsatisfying. 2 stars
1/07/09 Tatiana for a film discouraging violence, this does a good job. for a likable film, this is a -100. 4 stars
12/02/08 Shaun Wallner Kept me on the edge of the seat! 5 stars
10/12/08 jcjs33 wow, doesn't get any better and no 'graphic gore', fantasmo..real..this stuff happens 5 stars
8/10/08 Bart Great look into the most interesting human psyche, your own! 5 stars
7/04/08 Louise Disturbing and well-made 4 stars
6/16/08 rachel fabulous review, this one sucked. 1 stars
4/27/08 Jayme Isaacs Good Movie Highly Recommended 5 stars
4/09/08 Brett Closest Thing to a horror masterpeice since well the original Funny Games 5 stars
4/01/08 will i am graet indie thriller 4 stars
3/22/08 Sarko sick, liked it 4 stars
3/17/08 damalc the meanest movie ever 4 stars
3/15/08 stacy berg WE liked it 3 stars
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  14-Mar-2008 (R)
  DVD: 10-Jun-2008



Directed by
  Michael Haneke

Written by
  Michael Haneke

  Naomi Watts
  Tim Roth
  Michael Pitt
  Brady Corbet
  Siobhan Fallon

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