Funny Games (8/10)

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You sit in a cushioned seat, staring straight ahead of you, calmly observing people suffer. You cringe when you see blood spatter from various bodies, you cheer when there’s an explosion happening, and you practically get up and clap when the bad guy gets his due and has his head sliced cleanly off by a shiny blade. Yes, that’s right, you’re in a theatre, and doesn’t that make all the difference? It’s okay to watch people get killed in creative ways when you’re separated from them by a thin veil of celluloid, right? Michael Haneke, French director of such films like Code Unknown, throws this question like a javelin, straight to the heart of American audiences, and its point is so sharp and well honed that you’ll probably walk out of the theatre with something of a limp, and not without a small bit of resentment to the director for subjecting you to an hour and forty-seven minutes of torturous filmmaking.

Naomi Watts plays Ann, a wife who is on vacation with her husband and son at their weekend lake house and are about to discover that it is not Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock who are waiting outside their mailbox, but Paul and Peter, played with delicious and perfect haunting creepiness by Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt, two brothers who bet them that they will be dead by the next morning. So begins the night that never seems to end, neither for the family nor for the viewer.

Funny Games is not what you’d expect, which, if I’m to guess correctly from the movie, is exactly what director Haneke wanted. The trailer makes it seem like it’s going to be a fun night out where the family fights for their lives and ultimately emerge victorious through some good old fashioned wielding of golf clubs and kitchen knives. Now, I’m not going to say whether or not the family survives, but I will say that fun is the last word I would use to describe this film. Haneke’s point is not to use the onscreen suffering to give the viewer something of a little thrill, but rather to make him or her question the point and ultimate usefulness of watching something like this take place.

Movies like the Saw and Hostel series thrive on one thing, and one thing only: watching people almost literally get pulled apart in creative ways. The average fan goes into those films expecting to see people suffer, in increasingly gory fashion, until some fountain of blood explodes onto the floor or until the bad guy has his head sliced off by a shiny blade. Gore to follow. Even movies whose point is not really to show blood still have people suffering and the crowd cheering. Haneke shows us how inherently absurd this is, not by indulging in the material, but the thoroughly questioning it, overturning rules right and left and never once accepting predictability or exploitation.

Funny Games is difficult to watch. Even I, who am accustomed to movies like the Saw franchise, was squirming in my seat uncomfortably. What was happening in the film is never once fun, it’s a chore to work through, and it’s not like the kind of chore where you’re doing something to pass the time – it’s the sort of chore where you just sit and almost hate what’s happening. I could never bring myself to hate it, though, simply because of how marvelously constructed everything is, from the acting, to the set design, to the shot-for-shot way it was remade. It’s an excellent film through and through, but it’s not for everybody. Many critics are questioning the necessity of a remake from Haneke’s 1998 film, as it seems merely indulgent and kind of pointless. My response to that would be that no person who needs to see this film to understand the gratuity and senseless violence of the Saw and Hostel franchises would ever go out and rent Haneke’s 1998 Funny Games. It’s exactly where it needs to be right now, and is the most thought-provoking and challenging film in theatres right now.

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One Response to “Funny Games (8/10)”

  1. when choosing golf clubs, i always prefer to use an iron:**

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