“You shouldn't forget the importance of entertainment.” –-Peter
There are times I really enjoy being a reviewer. Times when I’m assigned some flick I’d never have seen on my own, and discover a thrill ride like High Tension. More often, however, I end up with flicks like Alone in the Dark, the only movie I’ve ever seen that I enjoyed less than Funny Games.
Funny Games is a shot for shot remake by director Haneke of his 1997 German language film. I’ve never seen the original, but I hear it’s a brutal, scary indictment of “horror as entertainment” movies. While being a big horror fan, I understand that sentiment, where some don’t think it’s a good idea to enjoy watching bad things happening to people.
While I see their point, I don’t agree with it. Great horror films can speak to people in ways regular movies can’t, and can have a cathartic effect, allowing us a safe outlet for more real-life fears.
But I’m not here to defend one of my favorite genres, but to talk about this movie. The plot is pretty basic. We are introduced to Ann (Naomi “The Ring” Watts), George (Tim “Planet of the Apes” Roth) and Georgie (Devon “Weeds” Gearhart). They are your typical family, heading to their vacation home by the lake for relaxation with their little sailboat and dog Lucky.
Not long after their arrival, two young men named Paul (Michael “The Village” Pitt) and Peter (Brady “Thunderbirds” Corbet) arrive. They’re dressed like typical yuppy teens, in white sweaters, shorts, and oddly enough, white gloves. They seem a nice enough. Then they quickly swerve off to Psychoville, and spend the rest of the movie traumatizing the family by playing terror games with them, while remaining chillingly polite and aloof.
What makes Funny Games different from most thrillers is that Haneke spends most of the screen time showing us the after-effects of the violence done by our villains. Most of the really horrible things happen off screen, which is not new. But then where most films cut away, Haneke gives us the lingering reactions, making us squirm not over Paul breaking a leg with a golf club, but torturing us with his gasping in pain and suffering afterwards.
These lingering aftershots just go on way too long, to the point where you want Haneke to just get on with it. Maybe I’m jaded, but watching Tim Roth spend five minutes using a hair dryer to try and get a cell phone working again isn’t entertaining for me, and it stopped being a “will the bad guys come back?” suspense scene after about the three minute mark.
The other problem I really can’t talk about without spoilers. However, I suggest you keep reading and spare yourself the pain that I went through.
I say again, spoilers. I’m going to talk about the end of the movie here, and the whole reason Haneke made this flick.
Early in the film, Paul breaks the fourth wall and directly addresses the audience, asking “You’re on their side, right?” He does this so fast and so glibly, it almost sneaks past you. He does it a few more times, until the last 20 minutes of the movie, where Ann grabs a shotgun and kills Peter.
Paul freaks out, hunts for and finds the TV remote, and then REWINDS THE MOVIE to before Ann grabs the gun. Then the movie starts again, and this time he keeps her from getting the gun.
Then in the last five minutes of the movie, Peter and Paul have a conversation about how a person could fall into a fictional reality, and how they could affect that reality, knowing it was fiction.
So the whole flick is a pretentious art house/ collage film school project message movie about how violence is bad, people who watch violent films are complicit in the violence, and how film is its own reality.
Oh, spare me, Artisan Boy.
The movie ends with Peter and Paul heading to the next luxurious vacation home and Paul staring into the camera with a knowing grin as they are about to start their “funny games” all over again with a new family.
I haven’t been hit over the head by a film’s message this hard since Lady in the Water, and I didn’t like it then, either.
Funny Games has a few things going for it. All the performances are top notch, which you would expect from this cast. Before it sails off into pretension, the movie has some unexpected twists that most movies never take. That’s part of why I really dislike this movie, because without that venture into fourth-wall breaking and directorial message smugness, it could have been great.
There are a lot of people who will praise and love this movie, especially in the art house and anti-horror/violence crowds. But for me, the moral of Funny Games can be summed up by the great line from the much better movie War Games: The only winning move is not to play.