Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart
Written & Directed By: Michael Haneke
Funny Games is a shot-by-shot remake of the Austrian film of the same name from 1997. Normally the case with remakes, but especially when the films are so close to each other, with nothing aside from different actors to differentiate between the two, are just a ploy to make money off of another‘s popular work. That may be the case to some extent however, with Michael Haneke writing and directing this film, the same filmmaker as the first film, it seems that reaching a wider audience was his main goal. He has a message and something he wanted to say, and felt the importance and vitality of this enough to make a separate film with a few well known American actors to criticize the American desires of media violence specifically.
Ann (Watts) and George (Roth) are having a nice time with their son, Georgie (Gearhart) at their vacation home. One day while George and Georgie are sailing, two boys, Paul (Pitt) and Peter (Corbet) come asking to borrow a few eggs on the account of one of the neighbors. Ann goes to get the eggs and they end up getting smashed by the dog jumping on them. After Ann goes to get them some more, they end up ruining her phone. At this point she just wants both of them to leave, which they refuse to do until they get their eggs. As George persists to get them to leave and attempts to get aggressive with them, the tables turn and things drastically blow up in their face, turning in to a kidnap situation. Paul and Peter continue to play games with them much to the family’s horror and disgust. Nothing that they do seems to get them out of the situation that they are in. It becomes more obvious that these men are not going to bargain with them. The only way for them to save their lives is to outsmart them and to find some way to escape and get help. While they are waiting for an opportunity to attempt this, each moment is becoming more creepy, demeaning, and personal.
The acting in this film was even more vital than the vast majority of films, because it was really the only thing that was different from the original film. Naomi Watts does very well. She shows us her suffering, frustration, and that sense of losing everything that is close to her and even bits and pieces of herself one by one. Although she was definitely the victim, she still tried to maintain some sense of strength constantly rebelling against these boys who were destructing her life.
Tim Roth did well here, but he really wasn’t given anything more to work with than the typical victim who was too petrified to do anything daring or risky. Devon Gearhart as the young Georgie gave a good performance. There were a few moments where his facial expressions seemed a bit too vibrant, but at the same time it served as a wonderful metaphor of the youth element that the violence of the media affects. Georgie is mortified and in absolute shock of so many things that goes on in that house that night.
The true breakthrough performances of the film are those of Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet as the killers in the film. They have such intensity to them, making the film have such an uncomfortable tone, especially since they do this in a polite and laid back way. This just makes it more unsettling. There is a great level of mystery to this even in moments where you feel you know what is going to happen next. The way Paul and Peter are conducting themselves is so far from the norm of the average person, even in comparison to the most ruthless and beastly killers. This is really a good example of never knowing who could be trying to harm you.
These two are not your typical criminals. They are clean cut, courteous, golf players. They even dress in white instead of the traditional black that would suggest their darkness. This is all part of their deceptive approach to get in to the house. Sure, they could just break in, but what fun would that be? They are all about the games that they conduct through sly, but subtle ways that mess with their victims. Usually the killers have to seem fierce and manly, but here we are given two men that if you past them on the street, you probably wouldn’t dream that they would be someone to fear, which just goes to show that looks can be deceiving.
The motive of the fear through the stereotypical answer is played with here. Paul claims that it is the result of a broken home than immediately calls the believers out for being so foolish to think this generic reasoning could be true. Really the reason they are doing this is for us. The fourth wall is broken several times throughout the film. Each time Paul is the one turning and taking to the audience, especially when he is playing one of his games. This gives the audience a link and a connection to him, rather than the logical suffering family. Paul constantly winks, smiles, and gestures towards us, even including us in on his bet of whether or not all three of his victims will be dead by 9 AM the next morning. At one point Ann asks why they don’t just kill them already, and Peter answers, “You shouldn’t forget the importance of entertainment”. We give them the motive, energy, and reason to continuously do this, because after all they are putting on a show for us and it must meet the entertainment standards that we have placed upon media.
Michael Haneke clearly didn’t want to have any element of this film feel like a typical horror movie. He shows desperation of difference here through very anti-trendy themes. The killers look and act nothing like any other popular movie killer has. There is not nearly as much blood as in a lot of the more vicious horror depictions, because it isn’t needed. After all, that blood hungry desire is just what is criticized. The most uncomfortable parts aren’t through killing, but just the wise smirks of our killers and the tense stillness in the room that is present just before we can tell things are about to take an even worse turn. The typical climatic moments, where the victims would normally strike back and escape are here, but leave the victims unsuccessful in their efforts. It does seem at times they could have gotten out. This is the case for Georgie as well as Ann. They both manage to get out of the house in different points in the film, but are both quickly caught again by their kidnappers when it seemed like they should have been able to reach help by that point. Also, before Ann even leaves she is messing around with her cell phone trying to get it to work for far too long. You just wonder why she isn’t leaving.
By letting the victims get out at a certain point it gives some hope that they will manage to escape. That hope is only granted to be severely squashed, proving that Paul and Peter will remain in control. No matter what Ann, George, or Georgie, do it won’t matter. They will soon be killed by them, it is just a question of when. This power that they hold is displayed through the remote control scene where Ann makes an attempt at lashing back and shoots one of them. Paul simply rewinds it, showing that it is that easy for him to stay in control and furthermore to destroy this clichéd pivotal point where the hero would defeat the bad guys. I understand where Haneke was trying to go with this, but in the spur of the moment to most audiences it can come off as confusing and that the rhyme and reason of the film is lost.
Funny Games by definition is the most direct translation of a remake as it is just an English version of the original with a few well known Hollywood actors to help sell it. Even the same blueprints and measurements of the set were used for the film. Obviously Haneke stands by the first film and feels nothing needed to be changed. Funny Games should be an unnecessary film, but the fact that he felt the need to remake it in English is much more reflective upon American society than anything else. Since the first film didn’t have enough exposure or simply that many weren’t up for subtitles, he felt this remake was needed to speak to American audiences. Sadly the ones he is most directly talking to probably won’t even give this film a chance, illustrating his very point.