Funny Games


Reviewed by: Chris

Funny Games
"As it has an 18 certificate, presumably those impressionable, violence-orientated youngsters at whom it is aimed can’t legally see it."

Haneke is a director who likes playing with your head as you watch his films. He did so brilliantly in Hidden, a complex mystery on several levels, at least one of which needs the audience to admit their complicity. Impressed, I went to see the English language remake of his own film, Funny Games, and was very unimpressed.

Funny Games is an experiment with the viewer’s reaction to violence. Two polite young men enter a wealthy couple’s holiday home and terrorise them. Most of the actual violence is off-screen. The viewer is teased and tempted to see more violence, with the perpetrators sometimes addressing the camera and asking what we would like in terms of torture and plot development - before turning the tables on us.

Copy picture

It’s all very clever. If it wasn’t fatally flawed.

Firstly, most modern viewers will at least question the assumption that wanting to see a violent movie is wrong. Some research from the 1960s suggests that violent films encourage violent behaviour. Since then more than 2,000 books and articles have been written about it. The case against showing violence to children carries some conviction, as does the case against showing violent images to people predisposed to violence. But many modern viewers might be of a similar mind to studies suggesting violent images simply provide a vicarious outlet for violent impulses. That they serve a valuable social function. Not to mention the big proportion of cinemagoers who would not dream of committing a violent act, whatever images you show them.

Haneke’s premise in remaking the film is that it needs to reach its target audience. Young Americans. Impressionable people in a country that suffers more than any civilised nation from gun crime. If the original 1997 film had been made in English, I might have agreed. But I suspect that most 2008 audiences are far too sophisticated.

Many viewers will already know the plot and theme – thanks to the first film or the copious media coverage. It’s not so clever when you know what’s coming.

In fact, it can be boring. I would have liked a little more in the way of plot. I don’t need an amateur psychologist trying to show that I egregiously lust after violence.

Funny Games still has some very good points. You may want to note the difference in your (or the rest of the audience’s) reactions to violence against bad guys as opposed to violence against good guys. Dear Mr Haneke, is it okay to blow someone away cos they are a bad person?

It is worth seeing for Naomi Watts' excellent performance. She portrays the terrified victim immeasurably better than the usual stereotype. And it is worth seeing if you cannot be bothered wading through the identical original language version when such viewer-involvement was far more innovative. It is still an unusual horror film. As it has an 18 certificate, presumably those impressionable, violence-orientated youngsters at whom it is aimed can’t legally see it.

Haneke has made some outstanding films: Hidden, The Piano Teacher, Code Unknown – and even his original Funny Games provoked much debate. Sadly this film is not one of his greats.

Reviewed on: 06 Apr 2008
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Funny Games packshot
English language remake of the ice-cold horror about a family held hostage by a pair of preppy youngsters. Plus read our with producer Chris Coen.
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Read more Funny Games reviews:

Paul Griffiths ****
Tony Sullivan ***1/2

Director: Michael Haneke

Writer: Michael Haneke

Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Siobhan Fallon, Arno Frisch, Boyd Gaines, Devon Gearhart, Robert LuPone, Linda Moran

Year: 2007

Runtime: 111 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: France, US, UK, Italy

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