Most mainstream audiences don’t like snooty art house films. They seem to think that the subject matter that art house films tackle is too dense or something, but if it hasn’t been directed by Michael Bay, they tend to avoid it. They suspect that the people who watch them like to brag about it and like to brag they seem more cultured than everyone else. But, when they come across a sadistic film like Funny Games, a film that acts like one of those Evangelical Christians knocking on your door and waiting to shove their message down your throat, they might have good reason.
What better an idea than to show how America loves to watch violence than just to hand it to them and give it to them on a foreign silver platter. Place them in a theater and subject them to watching what Americans love to watch: sadistic violence. Funny Games is a very drastic misnomer. Nothing is funny about this film.
George, Ann (Naomi Watts), and their young boy Georgie are terrorized by a pair of white sociopaths dressed immaculately in white. These young maniacs symbolically represent the entertainment biz, the ones who draw in those masses ready and rarin’ to watch brutal films like Saw and Hostel. The members of this upper-middle class family are the ones who get tortured, the ones that we American seem to love to watch so much.
Michael Haneke, who has directed masterpieces like Cache and The White Ribbon, has attempted to show us what kind of pigs we are. The subject of film violence and its influence on the public has been very controversial, the sides debating on its negative influence. Haneke’s objective is to show that violence indeed can be negative on someone’s way of thinking. While trying to do that, he simultaneously tries to anesthetize violence, trying to ward off the blame that one could put on him for making this film in the first place. However, this is a remake of a 1997 Austrian film of the same name. And by remake, I mean shot-by-shot remake. Nearly every frame of the film is identical to the original film, but for some reason, this version seems more malignant and mean than its Austrian counterpart.
The violence in incredibly unsettling, because unlike slasher films where the violence is cartoonish and torture porn films, where the violence is so over the top and sadistic, it’s unbelievable, it’s realistic and scary. But this film, which basically involves people in your home making you play mind games in which you hurt each other in a much more realistic way than Saw could ever portray, somehow crosses a line between reality and sick fantasy. Each move the family makes puts them closer in danger, because the killers are right there. They’re more than willing to cause this family as much harm as possible.
But the message of how sick Americans are doesn’t work well. One of the sociopaths, played by The Dreamer’s Michael Pitt, every so often looks into the camera ad speaks to the audience, making a *wink-wink* camera joke, making the film very self-aware. The lunatics know what they’re doing, and they know what the audience is doing: the audience is watching. The audience could stop, take the DVD out or something, but they haven’t. This is what Haneke is trying to say, and rather unsuccessfully. We’re hypnotized by violence. We can’t get enough. We play violent video games in which we blow people apart as part of our objective.
What is successful about the film is the way Haneke utilizes the violence. He wants us to recoil in fear and disgust, and sometimes he just shows the result of violence and not the violence itself. The deaths don’t happen on screen. Sometimes the scariest things are what you can’t see. Sort of like Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, where there’s no blood in the movie, but only suggestion. But, isn’t he providing the violence for us? Couldn’t he have just as easily just made a documentary? Yes, he could have. But he didn’t. With the psychopaths smirking at the camera and the last shot on Michael Pitt, Haneke seems to relish the fear he’s instilled in us. He wants us to be ashamed. And in some ways, we are. But, before long, Haneke just gets snooty all over again. Dear god, even the tagline for the film is snooty: “You must admit, you brought this on yourself.” He is certainly poking us in the nose for watching this genre in the first place.
But what is, as a whole, a very sickening and preachy film, when you get halfway through, the film, God forbid, gets dull. The pace suddenly comes to a halt and we’re left with the two surviving parents blow-drying a cell phone and trying to find a car to save them. This could have been remedied by the use of a film score, but the only music you hear in this film is classical music at the beginning to show how snooty this family is and then some hard-rockabilly-metal hybrid that has screams in it. Does this music represent the screams we will undoubtedly pour from our mouths as we watch this film? Or is this just used to show that this is a “contemporary” update to his film made for Americans who love their metal music? Either way, without a score, we’re left hanging at certain scenes, not terrified, just sort of bored.
Repellent, sickening, and disgusting, Michael Haneke takes his message of media violence and how it influences us a bit too far and while making some of us think, he just comes off as an arrogant director who wants to rub it in the American’s faces. An absolutely repulsive film, Haneke tries to send a message and aestheticize violence but it becomes hypocritical. Grade: D