Overview: Two seemingly normal young boys torture a family at their vacation home. Warner Independent Pictures; 2007; Rated R; 111 Minutes.
A Condescending Remake: Funny Games (2007) is a near shot-by-shot remake from Michael Haneke, a replication of his own Austrian film from ten years earlier, wherein only the cast and language have been replaced. Reportedly, the decision to re-film the movie in English was a product of Haneke’s having little faith that American audiences would watch or understand the original.
The Strong Points: There is currently no one better at fighting for survival on the screen than Naomi Watts (I don’t just mean in the context of horror—she’s incredible in both King Kong and The Impossible). The presentation of Funny Games’ murderous events is, at first, one of the most chilling constructions of modern horror. Motive is never explored. Great attention is paid in framing the normalcy of the two boyish intruders. Haneke has practiced this sort of dreadful patience before, in fantastic horror experiments Caché and The White Ribbon, but in those instances, his intent was more basic and disciplined and less ready to advertise his own self-licensed film knowledge superiority.
An Unassigned Essay: Michael Pitt’s performance is eerily psychotic, a natural for the role of Paul. Through two acts, a fascinating chess match unfolds between the evil killer and the protective mother. Then, Paul speaks to the camera and acknowledges the audience, asking us to consider our allegiance within the narrative. The first time is subtle. Quick, but disruptive. It happens again later. And then, when the terrorized mother grabs a weapon and kills his partner in crime, Paul finds a remote control in the couch and rewinds the movie. The same event plays out differently. Both killers live and the entire family dies, as fans of horror are accustomed. The message is an accusatory one. Haneke is replacing the fourth wall with a window, assigning responsibility for the onscreen violence to the viewing audience. This movie isn’t a movie about torture, violence, and murder. It’s a blunt and straightforward essay about our need to see torture, violence, and murder framed within movies. This movie isn’t even a movie.
An American Rebuttal: Funny that a man intent on speaking down to and casting blame toward film audiences has exhibited his own error in judgment here, a gross misunderstanding of what is implied in the fine print of any horror movie contract. There is nothing fresh about his perspective, nothing offered here that other horror filmmakers haven’t explored subtly without winking through the fourth wall. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and 2008’s struggling-but-still-superior The Strangers are two films keenly aware of the audience’s bloodthirst for the slaying of the innocent. Both these films (and countless others) explore through subtext (a concept often lost on arrogant individuals) what Michael Haneke explores with the same method used by Saved By the Bell.