When a film this good cannot be recommended to those of a nervous disposition, what's up, doc? Michael Haneke invites nightmares. At a time when slasher flicks are jokes and horror movies camp pastiche, along comes a piece of work that turns your skin inside out. It does more. It takes your blood and sticks it in the freezer.

When Anna (Susanne Lothar) and Georg (Ulrich Mühe) and young son, Georgie (Stefan Clapczynski) arrive at their holiday home by the lake, Peter (Frank Giering) and Paul (Arno Frisch) are standing on their neighbour's lawn like weekend guests. Later, Paul, an obsequious fat boy with perfect manners, asks a stressed Anna for six eggs, as they've run out next door. Peter, a tall thin boy with a cold, supercilious tone of voice, joins them and asks to have a swing with one of Georg's expensive golf clubs. Anna can't refuse, despite being irritated and uneasy. What follows is beyond belief, although not, because it happens. Anna, Georg and Georgie are terrorised by these well-bred psychos in their clean shorts and neat white gloves. There is no sense, nor reason for their actions, other than a penchant for psychological torture. Peter relishes the power. "I'll wager a bet," he says, "that in 12 hours you three will be kaput." Fear feeds off fear and anticipation grows inside the body of the plot like a cancer.

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Haneke presents the unacceptable face of... human nature? Worse. Without a conscience, man has the ability to ride clearshod over convention and do whatever he wants. Look at Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq. What makes Funny Games so shocking is that the sanctuary of upper-class privilege means less than nothing. Peter and Paul are gamesplayers. They write the rules and hand out the penalties. Anna and Georg won't play. That's rude. What do we do with rude people? Teach them a lesson. The film is about humiliation and torture. It is not hysterical. Its quietness makes it more frightening. When the monster's out of sight, where is it? Does it know? Is it watching? And the other one? Why does the other one sit there and smile? Terror this naked comes with a warning. Don't breathe. They can hear you breathing. Not since Janet Leigh took a shower in the Bates motel has film felt so fearful.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Funny Games packshot
A family is held hostage by two polite young men who use games as a form of torture.
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Director: Michael Haneke

Writer: Michael Haneke

Starring: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski, Doris Kunstmann, Christoph Bantzer, Wolfgang Glück, Susanne Meneghel, Monika Zallinger

Year: 1997

Runtime: 103 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany


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