Director – Michael Haneke
Writer – Michael Haneke
Starring – Naomi Watts, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Tim Roth, Devon Gearheart
It’s starting to become popular for filmmakers from foreign countries to make films in English or in this case remaking their very own film into the language. Michael Haneke, the master of uncomfortable, high tension situations, has decided to attempt this with his very own film of the same name. And this just goes to show that this little experiment by foreign directors completely works.
Based on the 1997 film of the same name, Funny Games tells the story of a family travelling out to there country cabin to stay. Once there they are soon taken hostage by two mysterious and psychotic young men and forced to play a set of physical and mental games.
Since I haven’t seen Haneke’s original film from over ten years ago, I can’t comment on whether or not this updating is much the same or if it’s any better. What I can say, however, is that if the original is anywhere near as impressive as this telling of the tale then I will be very surprised indeed. Needless to say I loved this film, everything from its self conscious way of doing things to the mannerisms of the two psychotic protagonists. Everything about the film is just so original, innovative and just completely different from anything I have seen in a long time.
As I mentioned the film is fantastically self conscious of what it is and plays around with audience expectations and genre conventions. The film does what normally is an unthinkable thing to do in filmmaking and that is it breaks the fourth wall. There are three or four examples of times where one of the young male ‘game players’ turns to the camera, just as if the audience is sitting there and is part of the situation, and talks to you. It is a bold move to make and one that could have worked horribly against the film but luckily it works fantastically.
To say the film is quite over the top would be a big understatement. It takes everyday life and effectively exaggerates it for cinematic purposes. But at the same time the film seems creepily realistic, not least of all in it’s scenes of violence and mind games, keeping you very much in the moment even if you don’t necessarily want to be there. Haneke is a master at forcing the audience to sit through the most uncomfortable situations, blatantly showcasing something but at the same being very sarcastic about it. As a result although the film is creepy, uncomfortable and at times disturbing it is blackly funny. The dialogue is the main cause of this, the little conversations between the two young men and the instructions for the ’funny games’ providing for some laughs amongst the otherwise deadly serious situations.
I loved the chemistry and interaction between the two young men. Michael Pitt plays the semi-leader of the two, the character who puts in motion the majority of the ‘funny games’ and situations. The two have nicknames for each other, things such as “Beavis and Butthead” or “Tubby”, and it’s never quite clear whether or not they are being serious by anything they say to each other or to the victimised family. This makes for an unpredictable experience where you’re never quite sure what will happen next and not once are you able to know how the film is going to turn out. As stated by the fourth wall breaking scenes the film knows what the audience is expecting and it’s not going to allow you the satisfaction of it playing out the way you think or expect it to.
The family in the film consists of Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Devon Gearhart. Watts is her usual brilliant self, playing here someone you can’t definitely sympathise with. Roth, a criminally underrated and underused actor, has a fairly smaller part compared to Watts, Pitt and Corbet so there’s not much to note of him here expect perhaps his believability as the helpless father and his spot-n American accent. Even Gearhart, who plays the son of the family, does a stellar job considering his age. But I think acting takes the backseat to everything else in the film; even if the acting was sub-par I still don’t think it would have made all that much difference.
Funny Games (US – as the film dubs it) is as uncomfortable, unconventional and most notably unpredictable of a film experience you are likely to find in the last few and upcoming few years. It takes audience expectations, acknowledges them and then disregards them, which is essentially what makes the film so effective. It may appear sadistic and pointless but there is a lot more to Funny Games than meets the eye.