I'd like to say that Funny Games is a film about children and their youth, the fun they have during a summer between school years. It could have been cheerful, an uplifting film with a PG rating. But alas, Funny Games is nothing like that. It is depraved, disturbing and fucked up. It defies the rules of cinema except, of course, it's a remake.
Funny Games, written and directed by Michael Haneke, is a remake of the 1997 Austrian film of the same name, which was also directed by Haneke. The film is a shot-by-shot recreation, making one wonder if Haneke just got confused and forgot that he had already made the exact same film. Honestly, I don't understand why anyone would ever make a shot-by-shot remake, especially after the debacle that was Psycho. I certainly don't understand why a director would want to remake his own film, especially one as highly regarded as the 1997 original.
For the record, I haven't seen Haneke's first Funny Games, so while I'll praise this 2008 version for being slick, disturbing and "original," if I had seen the other one already, I probably would be saying, "It's completely the same and an utter waste." Alas, I have not seen the original, so I'm not going to say that.
This Funny Games stars Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and young Devon Gearhart as a family of three that has arrived at their summer home to find their neighbors and good friends acting strangely. When two seemingly nice strangers (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) show up at their doorstep asking for eggs, it seems like a simple request… until Paul and Peter turn out to be psychotic young men who enjoy tormenting and torturing their victims.
Haneke takes an unconventional approach to the movie, and, for the most part, it works. He takes music to the extreme, as the film has long droughts of silence followed by sudden bouts of frenetic noise. Funny Games is violent, yet almost all of the violence takes place off screen, now out of an attempt to gain a PG-13 rating (which this movie would never achieve) but rather to make the violence all the more punctual. Haneke builds suspense with long sequences where never happens; the most "boring" scenes are often the best. Oh, and Pitt occasionally speaks directly to the camera. And at one point Haneke actually rewinds the film a couple minutes to change the course of the story.
Aside from the talking to the camera bit, which was just stupid, the rest of the film resembles a perfectly honed and crafted film. It probably helps that he had a test run with less expensive actors ten years earlier. Still, Funny Games is a tense, disturbing and utterly hopeless thriller that works on most levels.
The actors all deliver intense performances. Watts and Roth are great, though I was surprised by how little Roth has to do. Pitt, as always, is the definition of creepy brilliance; he has played a similar character in Murder by Numbers, though Funny Games is a much better movie.
Even though I've never seen it, I can't approve of Haneke remaking his own film, let alone shot-by-shot. There's just no reason for it. Still, Funny Games is a terrific thriller.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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