Directed By: Michael Haneke
Starring: Naomi Watts
Some things are universally scary to people all over the world. The idea of home invasion is apparently one of those things as “Funny Games” covers that very subject. This film is a remake of a German film of the same name. The director headed up this very near shot for shot American remake of his own film. This is literally an English language carbon copy of the original, completely unnecessary as it does nothing new that the original already did. This story is universal though, it plays on universal fears and it features universal social commentary on the wealthy. There’s also commentary on the media and the effects on those that take it in.
A family, Anna, George, and son Georgie, travel to a summer home on a lake for a couple of weeks of sailing and relaxation. Upon arriving they notice that their neighbors seem a bit strange. After a few seconds of contemplation they drive on up to their house and decide to talk to the neighbors later. Anna begins to prepare the house for dinner while Georg and Georgie prepare a boat for the water.
Soon a peculiar young man shows up at Anna’s door saying he is friends with the neighbors and asking to borrow some eggs. Anna agrees and lets him step into the house while she gets the eggs. She only has one box of a dozen eggs but she gives him four. On his way out he drops them. He asks for four more and she reluctantly agrees. While he waits for the eggs he clumsily knocks the families cell phone into a sink full of water. He drops the replacement eggs outside and comes back into the house with a friend and asks for the last four. She refuses and they refuse to leave.
What follows is a series of brutal psychological and violent games played by the two home invaders on the family. The games start slowly, just plain annoying at first, then slowly becoming more and more terrible. Just when you think it is about to end the games continue. Much of what happens is left to the imagination of the viewer, and in my opinion that makes “Funny Games” a much more disturbing film than it would have been were it more explicit.
On occasion one of the home invaders would acknowledge the camera and the viewer “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” style. These actions further the feeling of being sucked into the games along with the victims and unable to save them. Through these acknowledgements I began to feel like I was an unwilling partner to the invaders. There is one time when the character steps out of his role to acknowledge the audience during the third act that is a little heavy handed and it really breaks up the flow of the movie. At the same time the scene plays further into the social commentary about modern media and how it affects those that are easily influenced. This ties into a final conversation between the two home invaders about whether something is truly fiction if they can see it, like watching a film or television show. At the surface of it the answer to that question seems simple, but I don’t think it is simple for these two boys.
There are a couple of instances in the original film where the Director just lets the camera linger on the victims for many minutes as they sit almost stone silent and then crying. During these scenes the hopelessness really began to engulf me. I felt like I was lying on the floor beside Anna unable to move, unable, to help, and unable to comprehend the terrible event that had just taken place. This same scene staged an lit almost identically to the original occurs in this film too although it doesn’t seem to linger in that one space quiet as long. Even with the slightly shorter sequence it’s still very effective. This sort of lingering camera is used a couple of other times in the film to great effect.
This is truly daring and extremely well executed filmmaking. There’s no moral subtext, there’s no comedy relief, and there’s no hiding behind hip cutaways to give us as the audience a break from the violence. It’s very hard to watch. I hate that the original film didn’t get a theatrical run here in the United States and I hate that the film had to be remade in English to get a wider audience but I’m happy that more people are experiencing this stunning and unforgettable story.
What really makes the story disturbing is there is no reason for these guys to do what they do. They never really steal anything; they just commit these home invasions one after another for fun. I found “Funny Games” to be a well acted very tense, disturbing story. There’s nothing funny at all about “Funny Games”. If you like “A Clockwork Orange” you’ll probably enjoy (is that the right word?) this film as well. Be prepared this is a real nail biter.