FUNNY GAMES, 1997
Directed by Michael Haneke
Starring: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe
Review by Matthew C Holmes
Two psychotic young men take a mother, father, and son hostage in their vacation cabin and force them to play sadistic “games” with one another for their own amusement.
Austria has given the world a variety of coolness over the years: The city of Vienna, Sacher-torte (jam filled chocolate cake), Mozart, and a tidbit of cinematic insanity called Funny Games.
This film just plain works, from the setup to the final frame, there is an uneasy anticipation that permeates the atmosphere and writer/director Michael Haneke is to be cheered and pelted with small plush toys for his manipulation of both the camera and the watching audience.
So, Anna and Georg are going to spend some time at their vacation home with little Georgie and the dog in tow. Relaxation, music, and sailing are all on the menu, but when Peter and Paul arrive at the house, asking for eggs, everything goes out the window and the true horror of the film begins, and doesn’t ever stop.
The classification of this film is a bit tricky, and I am hesitant to stick it with a strict genre label, in spite of the fact that I have already used the word horror. (see previous paragraph) It is definitely a dramatic film, being that it is filled with moments of drama and little to no overt humor.
It also has thrilling moments, filled with tension and unspoken anticipation. And with two tennis-sweater and white short shorts wearing psychos in the mix, the horror elements become obvious and wonderfully disturbing. Writer/director Haneke has stated frequently that he did not make this to be a horror film but instead a “moralistic comment about the influence of media violence on society”. Ultimately it is all of these and more.
The most compelling and the most bizarre aspect of Funny Games is the half a dozen or so times that the two antagonists “break the fourth wall” or acknowledge the watcher, foregoing the illusion of a purely spectator audience. It is not a frequent occurrence, but it happens enough that the mood remains unbroken and the instance it happens becomes unforgettable.
They are as obvious as the character speaking directly into the camera, as obscure as the two psychos discussing the film’s runtime, and as devilishly subtle as a quick wink into lens when the character thinks you might not be paying attention. These little instances are the real meat of the point that Haneke was trying to make.
Bottom line, Funny Games takes psychological and physical torture to place unseen in film. Honestly, it can be difficult to watch at times, not because it is gory or overtly maniacal, but the sheer magnitude of disquiet and discomfort that pours off of the screen will keep you fidgeting in your seat.
Funny Games has since been remade for English speaking audiences. It was written and directed by Haneke himself and is shot for shot, line by line, exactly the same as the original, still called Funny Games, the only difference being the cast. I suggest trying to seek out the Austrian version if you can, the actors, being unknown in this country, put on a truly convincing and terrifying show as the hapless victims and the gentle psychos.
Do not let this film pass you by.