Let’s Play – Funny Games

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Funny Games may be the most bitter and cynical look at comfortable American life this side of South Park, and the farthest thing you could get from a date movie or Juno, or whatever the frou-frou happy Hollywood Dream Factory churns out. Funny Games takes happy cliches and generic expectations, revels in them for a little while, then brilliantly demolishes them in front of you, winking, smiling and laughing all the while. Politeness, the family dog, eggs for breakfast – “Fuck it”, says Funny Games. “Those eggs are toast and there’s nothing (NOTHING!!) you can do about it except cry.”

Which Naomi Watts does, a lot, and with good reason.

how could this happen to meee

The film starts off innocently with a birds-eye shot of the family vehicle on its way to the vacation home. Tim Roth, Naomi Watts and their son listen to peaceful classical music. Suddenly, ear-splitting metal music kicks in and the title shows up in blood red letters. Spooky! They settle in their supremely eggshell white house and make nice with the neighbors until two handsome young lads clad in white come in and beat Tim in the knee with a golf club. Naomi and son come to his aid but the family becomes cut off from the outside, trapped in the house with the maniac youths, who force them to play demeaning “games.” The 20-something psychos – named Peter and Paul, though they sometimes call themselves Tom and Jerry or Beavis and Butthead – make a bet with the family: that they will die by 9 a.m. the next day.

If that sounds chilling and cruel, well, it is. Or, was. Thing is, Funny Games is Michael Haneke’s remake of his own 1997 movie. This was all done before and, arguably, has been improved upon since. However, the remake is just as good if not better. Funny Games plays with expectations, and reality itself (or what passes for reality in this digital age), and it’s all very terrifying and, in the right (wrong?) frame of mind, a lot of fun. Nonetheless, it’s nearly the same movie Haneke made in 1997. The same shots, the same gags, the same “games”, nearly the same dialogue, even the same house. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth even resemble the original actors. Except this time it’s in English and it looks way better than the grainy original. The technology changes – CD players replace tape decks – but structurally and thematically it’s similar. There’s no new ending, no new twist. It’s almost a copy.

we just want eggggs

And it’s not like the original version is so old. Obscure, sure, but the only audience this movie will probably get is the same audience as the original. It MAY attract new crowds but, c’mon, this is a movie about a family getting terrorized, how likely is that? And honestly, it’s just not as shocking or clever as it once was. It’s also a disappointment nothing was changed, which must be a fault on my part since the damn movie is supposed to shatter hope and expectation.

Funny Games is also not as violent as it would lead to believe. It’s a movie about violence but it’s way tamer than any number of crappy horror movies that come out every month. TV is way more violent and, yes, it does makes that point. There’s barely any blood and when there is, it’s seen after the fact, splattered on walls and televisions stuck on the Speed channel. The power in Funny Games is suggestion and performance. The violence is offscreen so all we see is Naomi’s horrified reaction. The son gets tortured but you never once see him harmed, you just hear his feral screams. It’s remarkable how such a simple cinematic slight of hand is still effective.

hay thar

No stranger to remakes or horror (or horror remakes) Naomi Watts is undoubtedly the remake’s selling point. Looking darling even stripped down to her bare essentials, she’s also the movie’s executive producer, so it’s surprising how much she puts herself through the ringer, getting tied up in her underwear, hopping around and generally getting tormented. The fear, pain and anxiety looks genuine all around, and the son, tears streaming down his face, is just brilliant. The fantastic make-up deserves a mention – the family loses all color, they’re pale and strung out as hell. They look as white as the walls.

Hot on the heels of No Country‘s Anton Chigurh (or is that the other way around considering the original), the sadists arrive with little warning and no backstory. A stand-out scene involves the two sickos poking fun at the supposed need for a villain’s complicated origin, complete with a typical story about drug abuse and Oedipal explicitness. Then they laugh it off as a joke, a complicated lie. Who cares where they come from? These two bastards laugh in the face of convention and normalcy, seeking only to decimate the spoiled, snot-nosed bourgeois family in their safe, lakeside gated communities. The boys bridge the disconnect between the family in their hyperwhite house with the hyperviolent outside world. The pop culture references and channel surfing hammer this home.

ren and stimpy

A conversation near the end of the movie makes it all too clear. Similar to South Park’s ultra-bitter Imagination Land episodes (or Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, which the conversation actually could be about), the topic of blurred boundaries between fiction and non-fiction arises. Are we in a fiction or reality? The scariest thing about Funny Games is this type of torment could happen. It does happen. Real life is way scarier than anything Peter and Paul could pull which is why good horror movies or thrillers owe it to the audience to tell it like it is – there is no happy ending, or there is no ending at all.

Or whatever you like. I want to think Funny Games is ambiguous enough to let you side with who want, let you think what you want. It challenges and chills, and it should be seen, especially by fans of the original and Cronenberg’s A History of Violence, a recent example of the exploration between a film’s violence and its audience. The remake, and I suppose this is its greatest reason for existence, fits comfortably as the latest misanthropic movie about the futility of existence. Chigurh, Daniel Plainview, Sweeney Todd: Paul and Peter came first. Now they’re back. That doesn’t mean futility isn’t funny. It’s right there in the title, after all. But if you really want comeuppance? Retribution? Try prayer.

OH PLEASE OH PLEASE OH PLEEEAAASE

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13 Responses to “Let’s Play – Funny Games”

  1. Film Walrus Says:

    Having not seen either this or the original, but being familiar with Haneke work, I remain pretty skeptical. Most American remakes of European films (City of Angel, Scent of a Woman, No Reservations) make me cringe, even if they retain the same director (The Vanishing). I don’t really buy into Haneke/Noe’s “cinema of disturbance” and I find their rhetoric about desensationalizing violence to be frequently insincere. Certainly the trailers for this one have been glorifying its “provocative” and “controversial” status hard core and I can only wonder about what he thinks a bigger budget and bigger names will gain for a story he already admits is likely to be misinterpreted by most Americans. Its smells to me like another Haneke/Noe grab at further notoriaty, but I might check it eventually.

  2. John Mora Says:

    I definitely liked it. But it’s also not as “extreme” as the ridiculously overblown reactions from the press have been. It’s not really as grotesque or horrific as a Hostel or Saw. It is a rather pared down experience, for sure. I suppose an art house snuff film wouldn’t be a wholly inappropriate description for what this movie aspires towards. I especially recommend it to people who want more than a cheap thrill from their gore films. It’s not The Shining, but it’ll make you think.

    Unless you hate thinking.

  3. sirtmagus Says:

    Huh. I was reminded of The Shining too, I think, while watching it. Maybe it’s all that white and the mop-topped blonde kid running around.

  4. KJ Says:

    Actually, Sweeney Todd DID come first!

  5. John Mora Says:

    I think there are cave paintings of Angela Landsbury as Mrs. Lovett.

  6. sirtmagus Says:

    EVERYTHING BEFORE THE 80s NEVER HAPPENED

  7. John Mora Says:

    Tubby. >:3

  8. Film Walrus Says:

    The idea that there were films before the 1980’s is a hoax that I’m surprised is so readily accepted. I mean, like did we really live in a land without color? I think not. Were there really “stage theaters” in full 3D? I think its unlikely we had holograph projectors back then, don’t you? What about how all those so-called “old movies” are suddenly, magically on DVD when they didn’t even have VHS back then? Your being scammed, world, once again.

  9. sirtmagus Says:

    The world began with Sega Genesis.

  10. John Mora Says:

    I read an article saying that Haneke remade this film because he felt that this movie was always aimed at an American audience, and proceeded to talk about the callous, naive American attitude towards violence in its films, how people’s lives are treated like toys.

    Toys for games?? \:3

  11. The Geek Life Notblog » Blog Archive » Episode 7 - Tim’s Post Script Says:

    […] also a review of the 2008 English language version of Funny Games […]

  12. Year in Review - 2008: It… It… It… Had Its Moments « Grump Factory Says:

    […] 7. Funny Games […]

  13. 2008 Round-Up Review - Kept You Waiting, Huh « Grump Factory Says:

    […] Funny Games – An English-language copy of the original but still timely and […]

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