Funny Games (2007)
By: Julian on March 25, 2009  | 
DVD
Madman (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 107 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Michael Haneke
Starring: Namoi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet
Screenplay: Michael Haneke
Country: USA
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
Perhaps I'm not qualified to review these shot-for-shot remakes; I've already done a write-up of Quarantine for this site, a film I quite enjoyed, without having seen it's supposedly far-superior source material [Rec]. Here, the enfant terrible of the Austrian arthouses Michael Haneke is remaking his own film, the absolutely blistering Funny Games, which I only managed to check out after seeing this redux for the first time. This movie, titled in some quarters Funny Games US but here simply Funny Games was Haneke's attempt to bring the original film to a broader audience, with A- (maybe sub-A) leads Naomi Watts and Tim Roth as the protagonists against Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet's inherently creepy baddies.

We've got the happy nuclear family Ann (Naomi Watts), George (Tim Roth, and it's great to see him being involved in some good material again) and young fella Georgie (Devon Gearhart). The family arrive at their lakeside getaway and, as they unpack, a neighbour comes to say hello and introduce two "nice young boys", Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet). The neighbour leaves, and Peter and Paul start to impose on the family unit – initially a benign presence that becomes more and more intense, by which point Ann insists they leave. After labouring an issue about domestic politeness, Peter uses George's golf clubs to break his legs.

From here on in, Funny Games is one of the most intense home invasion horror pictures I've ever seen. Ann chokingly turns away enquiring neighbours in the hope they are spared, however the antagonists' true intentions are revealed when Paul chirps, "You bet that you'll be alive tomorrow at 9 o'clock, and we bet that you'll be dead. Okay?"

Again, I must write here that as far remakes are concerned, this is as redundant as what Quarantine was. It's shot-for-shot but something that's present in this film that wasn't in the original was the sheer intensity of the performances. Perhaps it had something to do with the language - having to interpret subtitles tends to diminish the impact of super-disturbing dialogue like that in Funny Games (cue the indignant wrath of those who can read and allege I can't; nothing personal, fellas, and perhaps I was one of the illiterate philistines Haneke aimed this movie at. I can assure you I'm a foreign-language man all the way but something was lost for me in the inevitable detachment of subtitle-reading in a film where linguistic tone was so vitally important). Although, perhaps even more disturbing is that the antagonists aren't debasing in how they speak to the family. The power is in their cold, clinical approach: this is the very essence of bored nihilism. Peter and Paul are doing what they're doing simply because they've got nothing better to do, because they can. Pitt and Corbet are just so great as the amoral antagonists, particularly Pitt, who I've never really liked since Bully.

Now, I like Michael Haneke – I like the guy a lot. And I'm more than willing to wear whatever charges of arthouse pseudo-intellectual tosser that may be thrown my way. But Haneke was (still is) one of the most interesting voices in French shock cinema, which only really reared its head about half a decade after he had dispensed with the genre with the rise of Gaspar Noè and Catherine Breillat. Funny Games is perhaps the best distillation of Haneke's – he shies away from the excessively talky and convoluted (see: Hidden) or just the plain excessive (see: The Piano Teacher). That's a tremendously simplified and ignorant synopsis of two films I really do love, but if you know Haneke, you'll get my point.

On the cover slick, it's written "Pasolini's Salo profoundly influenced Haneke". You can see that here through the blasé detachment with which human life is treated. Another more explicit similarity that can be drawn between Salo and Funny Games is in its aesthetic – everything's so brightly lit. Events and antagonists that are usually shrouded in darkness and shadow to provide at least some sort of security to the viewer aren't in this film. The lead up and brutal conclusion takes place during broad daylight. And to rub our noses in it, the pale blondes Peter and Paul wear white t-shirts and gloves.

Haneke says that his motive for directing Funny Games back in 1997 was to respond to the media's treatment of violence, and the public consumption of it. In the liner notes of this DVD, Haneke says, "…it angers me to see gratuitous violence, wrapped up like chewing gum to be consumed. It's irritating; it's cynical". And while critics have lambasted him for hypocrisy as he depicts the sharply brutal acts he so condemns, it must be said that Funny Games – both films – aren't violent ones. As far as bloody grue is concerned, we see about 10 seconds of it here. And to fashion one of the best horror movies of the noughties (yeah, I can say that about a remake – even a shot-for-shot one), Herr Haneke just doesn't feel the need to spill the claret.

Why don't you just kill us?

You shouldn't forget the importance of entertainment.

For most of this review, I've been pretty vague in how I've referred to Funny Games – that is, if I'm talking about the 1997 original or the 2007 remake. Comparing the two is difficult because the remake is so similar. The protagonist and antagonist duos in Funny Games '07 far out-perform those in Funny Games '97. I'm not going to review Funny Games '07 on the basis of originality, because that's a moot point – this was done identically ten years ago, and no attempt is made to hide the fact that this is a remake. I'd be inclined to let this flick slip just above Funny Games '97 – Haneke's far more technically competent here than what he was when he helmed the source material relatively early in his feature-length career, and the presence of four good actors at the top of their game is incredible.
Video
Picture's presented in 1:85:1 with 16:9 enhancement. It's pretty flawless and the cinematography itself is brilliant. The man responsible is the Iranian maestro Darius Khondji, Fincher's DP for Se7en and Panic Room and a guy who knows a thing or two about evoking a seriously dread-filled atmosphere.
Audio
English Dolby Digital 2.0. A nice 5.1 would've been great here though.
Extra Features
Directors Suite is a company that releases great films, but as far as supplementaries go they usually ain't much chop, and their disc for Funny Games is no exception. A theatrical trailer, plus a few of other DS releases. Could've done better – but included are the typical DS liner notes and filmography on the inside cover slick.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Seriously, this was one of the most powerful horror movies I've seen this decade, the sort of intense experience that has you feeling physically claustrophobic – the only other recent American flick that left me feeling this empty when I turned it off was The Mist (an aside: isn't it a worry when I reckon that two unoriginal films are in the upper end of a once great filmmaking country's genre output? And I don't think it's just me...). From the opening credits (admittedly it's a bit of generational paranoid "devil music" invective, but the contrast was effective) to the final, bone-chilling freeze-frame, Haneke's Funny Games US was galvanising. A must.

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