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DVD Review: Funny Games

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With films like Cache and Piano Teacher, Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke has shown a desire to observe unsettling human behavior and dramatize the response to it. That said, the purpose of Funny Games is to provoke and disturb the audience as much as possible. While Funny Games is likely to scare some to the point of not being able to watch it, those that already saw Haneke's 1997 German version of the film may be a bit perplexed as to why the director chose to do a virtual shot-by-shot remake of his own film.

As the movie begins, a seemingly upper middle class couple Ann (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) are heading out to their summer home with young son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) and a boat in tow. As they ride along, they're guessing who's singing arias; from this we can establish they are young urban professionals, or "yuppies" if you prefer. Despite the bucolic scene, we are alerted to the troubles to come by the thrash metal that blasts out of the film's soundtrack, as the shiny family continues the trek to their country home.

funnyspan.jpgAs the family approaches the gate of their vacation home, Ann and George see a neighbor couple in their garden with two young men. Chatting breezily from a distance, the two couples make a date to play golf the next morning. Ann senses something is wrong, but she can't quite figure out what. Dismissing her concerns, Ann goes about her business.

As Ann prepares dinner, a young man in a tennis outfit and golfing gloves drops by; He says his name is Peter (Brady Corbet) is staying with some neighbors and asks to borrow some eggs. Anna gladly hands them over but on the way out, Peter drops the eggs, apologizes profusely and Anna gets him some new eggs.

Meanwhile, Peter's friend Paul (Michael Pitt) appears also dressed in tennis whites and golf gloves. While both boys are unfailingly polite, there is something very odd about them. While the boys' language is perfect and non-threatening, they ask questions that don't seem to lead anywhere and their answers are often non sequiturs. In the "egg scene" no one is doing anything reprehensible. Something just feels very unsettling.

Things turn brutal quickly after the second set of eggs is supposedly dropped. The family soon finds themselves the victims of unimaginable torture. After the family dog is killed with a golf club, George's leg is broken, rendering him helpless as his wife and son are mentally and physically brutalized. Viewers soon learn that Peter and Paul are full blown psychopaths; happily picking off the members of this exclusive lakeside community. To them, it's all a great big game and everyone has to play.

funny-games-evil-boys.jpgFunny Games has absolutely no redeeming qualities. Some might say that by showing 112 minutes of unrelenting violence and vulgarity, viewers will become repulsed by the amount of violence in mass media and lead a revolution for change. Yeah, right. There always has been and always will be an audience for violent movies and shockingly bad ones. Funny Games fits the bill on both counts. The film has an air of smugness that's hard to ignore. You just know that Heneke believes he's made the ultimate message movie — the kind of in-your-face accusation of the audience's love of things crass and disturbing. To bring this point home, Paul even looks at the audience a few times, just to let us know he understands our voyeuristic urges. Games is an attempt to get us to not only look at the action onscreen, but also our reaction to it. Many viewers will be compelled to vomit or just turn the film off, making more intellectual thoughts impossible.

Funny Games is bound to leave most viewers fairly disgusted. However, the element of abject terror is strangely missing. This is due in no small measure to the performances of Barry Corbet and Michael Pitt. Their clean good looks make you wonder what fashion magazine they stepped out of, and their soft squeaky voices imply no threat at all. So while you know these boys are going to kill this family, an element of terror doesn't exist. Instead, you might find yourself just waiting for the inevitable ending.

In the end, Funny Games is a pointless exercise. Whatever point Heneke hope to make is lost in a sea of bad filmmaking decisions. There are close-ups of unimportant objects, line after line of pointless dialogue, and lots of off camera action. If Heneke's mission was to indict the media for its promotion of violence and vulgarity, Funny Games only succeeds at inflicting torture on its audience.

The DVD includes both the widescreen and standard editions. The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround. Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.

Funny Games offers no special features.

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About Rebecca Wright

  • I just saw this last night. Although I have to grudgingly congratulate the director for not taking the expected route, the whole serious of gratuitous ‘see how risky and thought provoking I can be’ moments don’t serve Haneke well. But of course, he must have done something right to bring me here to share my thoughts, eh?

  • Derek Fleek

    Another great review. I also didn’t like it for the exact reasons you state. However, I didn’t hate the film. Although I thought there were a couple moments of intelect, the majority of it was pointless. It was a good effort, but Michael Haneke doesn’t quite grasp the meaning of entertainment.