Funny Games is a shot for shot remake of the 1997 Austrian film of the same name. Directed by Michael Haneke, the man who directed the original, Funny Games takes place at a lake house. A close, tight-knit family is arriving for a vacation, and after a while, are visited by two young men. These men just want some eggs, but after a couple of accidents, the family begins to suspect that they are playing games with the family. Soon after, the family becomes imprisoned in their house by the two men, who wish to make a bet with them. The men bet that the family won’t make it through the night. The family is forced to bet with the opposing view.
Even though the plot seems simple, there is quite a lot going on beneath the surface, which is why I feel a lot of people aren’t going to like Funny Games. It is, in essence, a movie that is taking shots at its audience, at least, the members of the audience who enjoy watching violent films. It’s a movie with a message, but it’s only their in a subtle manner. The film isn’t going to beat it into you, but instead it will hope that you pay close enough attention to get it. As sad as it is, the film taken strictly at face value, while still decent, isn’t really all that interesting to watch.
In fact, if you don’t notice the little nuances of the film, and if you miss the point it’s trying to get across, you might end up extremely frustrated with what you end up watching. There are a few hints throughout, like the breaking of the fourth wall done by one of the villains, but these things can often go unnoticed, especially if you don’t pay attention. They do get more apparent by the end of the film, but I have a feeling that if you hadn’t noticed by then, you might have already shut the film off.
Subtlety is the key word of the film, both in its message and in its execution. Despite being one of the more disturbing films I can remember seeing, the violence and brutality all happen off-screen. Since the mind often makes a darker vision than what can be portrayed on-screen, this technique ends up being effective in not alienating the audience it is preaching to. Unlike The Condemned, which had a very similar message, but executed it in a way that chastised its audience, Funny Games manages to stay clear of doing that.
Characters-wise, the film does a good job of making them relatable, and allowing you to feel for them. It almost feels as though you are co-conspiring with the villains. You are playing the game along with them, so to speak, and you get empathetic towards the family being tormented. You also feel an incredible hatred towards the two young men. They are arrogant, upper-class characters, who have a politeness that is insufferable. You wish you could jump into the TV and have a go at them. This is how villains should be portrayed. They aren’t stereotypical ‘bad’ characters, and actually end up performing far more effectively without such labels.
They are also well acted, allowing you to see into the depths of their characters as well. It’s the same with the family, with the only real low-point being the acting of the child. The boy is played by Devon Gearhart, and while he does show emotional range, it seems to me that such emotion came too quickly for the situations presented. The more restrained members of the family are quite well acted, with Naomi Watts playing the wife, and Tim Roth playing the husband. I do take slight issue with Roth’s character though, as it seems he didn’t actually try all that hard when faced with the adversities of the film. One could argue this is due to the fact that his knee ends up being broken, but it still seemed to me like he could have done more for his family.
I have a feeling a lot of people are going to dislike Funny Games for the same reason I really enjoyed it. It’s a movie that deals almost entirely in the subtleties it presents. It manages to get its point across without being up-front about it. It has well-developed characters, all of which have differing personality traits. The villains of the story are not stereotypical, but instead are polite-as-could-be young men. Funny Games isn’t always the easiest film to watch, but it’s one that’ll be hard to forget once you do.