Halloween Horror Movie Marathon: ‘Funny Games (2007)’

Funny Games (2007)

‘Why don’t you just kill us?’

‘You shouldn’t forget the importance of entertainment.’

Funny Games (2007) Directed by Michael Haneke. Starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart.

Some of the movies I appreciate most are those that elicit a strong emotion from me. It’s one of the reasons I love film so much. I value the chance for intense emotional experiences that are disconnected from my real life, whether it’s happiness, sorrow, excitement, fear, or even horror and revulsion. It’s a part of my fascination with this genre. For reasons I don’t yet understand I am drawn towards challenging, visceral movies that most people avoid. I may not say that I like such movies but I appreciate and hold a strange fondness for them. Funny Games is one of those types of films.

A rich family of three, George (Tim Roth), Ann (Naomi Watts), and their son Georgie (Devon Gearhart), head out to their lakeside vacation home. As they settle in a young man (Brady Corbet) in golf gear appears at their door, asking to borrow some eggs to take to the neighbors. He drops the eggs, asks for more, and then “accidentally” drops Ann’s cell phone in the dishwater. His polite demeanor turns unsettling as he becomes more insistent when another young man (Michael Pitt) appears with an equally polite but aggressive attitude. Ann demands that they leave, enlisting George’s aid to throw them out and it quickly becomes clear that they are not going to leave. They incapacitate George by whacking his knee with one of his golf clubs and spend the rest of the film terrorizing the family. It’s a disturbing, gut-wrenching, unsatisfying, and, at times, angering movie.

Again, this is not a film most people will “like” but it is well made. The actors are fantastic, as they have to be; most of the emotional impact comes not just from the story but from their reactions to what’s going on around them. There are some truly suspenseful, edge of your seat sequences where you root for the family and the outcomes are not what you’d expect. Instead the outcomes might leave you stunned, gasping for breath, and feeling like the director has ripped a horrible, ugly part of you from your body and shoved it in your face.

Why would anyone watch such a film? Why would anyone make such a film? I understand why you might expect me to answer the first question, but I don’t have a clear answer. Like I said, I search for visceral, intense experiences in my film viewing choices. Isn’t that part of what a film is supposed to do, take us on an emotional ride and drop us safely back in our seats while teaching us something about the human condition? I would hope that’s why most of us appreciate cinema, though I would not expect everyone to search out the same challenging film experiences that I sometimes search for.

Which perhaps leads us to the second question, why did Michael Haneke make such a film? On the surface it sounds like another pointless exercise in titillating the audience with gratuitous violence. But a viewing of the film will show that he is directly challenging those of us who watch violent films to ask ourselves that first question.

He crushes our expectations by breaking many conventions of your typical violent Hollywood action or thriller film, be it in plot or style. There is no music on the soundtrack outside of what the characters are playing. This robs the viewer from picking up on any cues as to the outcome of any particular scene. There is no fast cutting or exciting editing; several of the shots are long takes that last for several minutes. Nearly all of the violence takes place off screen though we do see some of its aftermath. Instead we hear the violence acted out upon the victims while the camera remains on the reactions of others, mostly the family members. The actors are intense and wholly convincing in these scenes, even the young boy whose show of terror and anguish in the early scenes broke my heart. But, with one unusual exception, none of the violence is directly on display.

Haneke uses Michael Pitt’s character to break the “fourth wall” and address the audience directly. He smirks at us and talks to us. He is conscious that we’re watching him in a film and he knows what our expectations are. “You’re on their side, aren’t you?” he asks us. He makes us aware of our complicity in the violence. He even changes the direction of the film in one jarring, surprising sequence.

I see that I’ve neglected to mention that this is a remake of the 1997 Austrian film also called Funny Games. But it’s one of those rare films that is a shot-for-shot remake made by the same director. It should be obvious that he remade the film for an American audience because he felt they needed the confrontation as well.

I’ve seen the original and found it to be more effective but that may simply be because the shocks in this film (it doesn’t seem right to call them “surprises”) work best on a first viewing so it may not matter which one you watch. I can vividly recall my viewing of the original film and the punches in the gut it delivered, how much I hated the violent young boys in their pure white golf clothes. So… why did I watch a shot by shot remake of a terrifying, disturbing movie that I’ve already seen? Curious, I suppose. I wanted to see if the presence of Hollywood actors diminished the effect it brought the first time. Or maybe I just wanted to ask myself again, why do I watch this?

Funny Games, in either its original or remake forms, is not really a horror film but it will make you feel genuine horror. Is that the sort of thing you search for in a movie? Then come join me. But for those of us who are drawn to this sort of thing, we may just deserve what we get.

‘But isn’t fiction real?’

‘Why?’

‘Well, you can see it in the movie, right?’

‘Of course.’

‘Well then it’s just as real as reality because you can see it too, right?’

‘Bullshit.’

‘Why?’

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