Funny Games (2008)

Funny Games (click for larger image)Reviewed by Tristan Sinns

Starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart

Directed by Michael Haneke

One of the more common, even rather expected, aspects of film is that of the resolution, that moment of truth wherein the accumulated stress peaks, explodes, and fades into warm and comforting closure. It is a satisfying moment when all of the suffering and conflict, be it emotional turbulence or outright physical violence, is shown to have a sort of purpose that we can smile and nod at. The resolution redeems us, purges our fears with a near parental smile, and lays them to rest so that we may feel it was all good for something after all. Give us this bread and we feel we know what the film is about; remove it and we’re confused, tricked, perhaps even angered. Funny Games is a brutal exercise in filmic trickery, a vicious and elegant poniard of a film that stabs and penetrates the heart and leaves it shredded, bleeding, and starving for understanding.

A small family arrives to relax at their beautiful vacation home set somewhere in the rich countryside. All is idyllic; the sky a perfect blue, the countryside healthy and green, the landscape broken by still lakes born for an afternoon of lazy boating. Their vacation swiftly takes a malevolent turn when they are visited by two young men (Corbet and Pitt) who, despite their rather harmless demeanor, take over the household with a disturbingly practiced efficiency. George (Roth) is immediately wounded to the point of being rendered helpless, Ann (Watts) and son Georgie (Gearhart) intimidated and bound. They are trapped, caught, and helpless.

Funny Games (click for larger image)Thus begins the cruel core of the film; the family is subjected to a series of rather mean-spirited and torturous games initiated by the two giggling young men who seem to take a sincere and real interest in making the destruction of this small family as entertaining as they possibly can. This is hard stuff to watch, even in today’s age, and may be more chilling than many might be able to stomach. It’s not that the violence itself is somehow over the top, for it’s not; it’s rather that the cruelty is unleashed in such a context as to make it exceedingly frustrating by its denial of satisfaction or in any lasting relief of stress. These are games that the boys are playing, to be sure, but they are cheaters in their own games and, far worse, the film itself cheats right along with them. It is almost as if the film itself is a malevolent thing seeking to devour the small family trapped within it; the two giggling lads merely an extension of its ill intentions.

Denial is throughout the film; most of the violence occurs off camera, out of sight but the resulting suffering still heard to chilling effect, while we are shown mundane activities such as one of the men making a sandwich. We are denied witness to horrors, denied moments of gratuitous nudity that could distract us, denied key scenes of capture and conflict to only be shown their cold aftermath. The camera and its attentions intentionally work to keep us from anything gratuitous that might titillate on a more exploitative level. It knows we like the bad stuff, as we all do on some dark level, and that’s why it doesn’t give it to us except for a few brief moments done on its own malevolent terms.

Funny Games (click for larger image)The film carries along with it some rather heavy and intellectual messages concerning the relation between violence, the media, and the condoning of such violence by the passive viewer. The message of the film doesn’t feel like it is necessarily opposed to violence in film, for never is it felt to be preachy or talking down from a soap box, but it is a powerful subtext that the violence is only there because we, the audience, are watching. The horrible things that befall this family occur only because the movie is being watched; stop watching it and all the suffering ceases to exist. It even calls into question the nature of reality, with one of the two men suggesting that fiction is, on some level, a form of true reality simply because it can be witnessed. The logical conclusion that follows is, if you want the reality shown within this film to stop, then you only have to turn it off or leave the room to make it undone.

Funny Games is a remake of a 1997 film of the same name, also written and directed by the very same director, Michael Haneke. This remake is exceedingly unusual in that it is a virtual copy, differing mainly in the actors performing and in the language spoken. The home was redesigned to be a structural duplicate to the original, and the dialogue simply translated and not rewritten. Haneke has said that he always intended the film to be an American story; and, having seen both films, I must admit it arguably better fits the culture. Overall this remake is brilliant; superbly acted, masterfully directed, and wholly, even painfully, memorable.

Funny Games deserves respect in the same way a bear trap of exquisite craftsmanship must be admired; for its cruel teeth, its crushing grip, and its inexorable ability to trap its prey and leave it crippled, bleating, and alone. Its genius isn’t in its entertainment value, for few will truly find this to be fulfilling entertainment, but rather in its sharp and steely delivery of the director’s message. It’s a film to make you feel unsafe, as perhaps sometimes you should, in such a way that is beyond hope, or outright prayer. “I love you, God, with all my might. Keep me safe all through the night.” Do you think the prayer will help them, Jerry? Jerry’s just smiling sweetly and not answering right now. Go see this movie if you want to see something smart and mean.

4 1/2 out of 5

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Tristan Sinns

  • rjschwarz

    I agree with Creepy. There was a number of times where a counter-attack would have easily succeeded and yet they never tried.

    After the clues that their neighbors might have already been abused and then more clues that the friends on the boat where the next targets and then the clear indication that the three would not survive. You’ve got nothing to lose by just going berserk at that point. The point of the movie is about us accepting violence? Well not, we were waiting for something to happen. For some justice. The movie was nihilistic and pretentious.

    And to make it all worse you had these long establishing shots of the house while we wait for someone to exit the building. Waiting, waiting, waiting for something mundane. The movie was 111. If you cropped out 21 minutes including the talking to the camera and the rewind you’d have a much stronger movie. So the movie was also dull.

    • Uncle Creepy


  • goweftus

    I just want to comment that this is probably the best review of this film I’ve seen, and I’ve read dozens. This review expresses pretty much what I felt about the film, and does it articulately and accurately. I had to endure so many appallingly stupid reviews, and it’s a real relief to read something intelligent being said. Thank you!

  • LaMort

    I just love reading the macho male comments because in typical alpha male fashion, they just don’t get it.

    Haneke gave you what you wanted. He even made the violence more realistic by cutting out the cheesy gore effects and adding top notch acting. What is the matter? The bad guys too annoying? You upset that when the good guys fought back, there use of muscle can do nothing to match the power of the remote control??

    You people really didn’t get it!!! Perhaps this movie was YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE!!!

    Bravo Haneke!
    Another encore please.


  • The Woman In Black

    “Stupidity” is not a word that doesn’t apply to this movie.

    Freudian slip? lol Caught by the old double negative again!

    Funny Games didn’t come close to pissing me off (Oldboy is the hands down winner of that contest, and I happily credit it as such). Instead it just annoyed me for a while and then was so ultimately boring that I couldn’t wait for everyone to die so we could go home.

  • Tristan Sinns

    I wouldn’t even include this in the “torture porn” sub-genre. Torture porn is about giving people a gross megadose of the grue they so want to see; Funny Games is about denying the viewer any stimulating peak, be it violence, nudity, or revenge. Torture porn puts out; Funny Games is frigid.

    When Andrew and I walked out of the screening, I said something to the effect, “Well, this is going to piss a lot of people off.” This really wasn’t a tough call to make (I’m sure Haneke called it first), but I think I was right!

  • Sirand

    Actually, the torture porn fad made this film’s message even more relevant. It’s even more subversive now than it was ten years ago. That’s why Haneke’s the man!

  • Uncle Creepy

    Maybe ten years ago this movie would have made more of an impact, but nowadays, after being bombarded with torture film after torture film (both good and bad)? It just seems hollow and self indulgent.

  • Sirand

    “Stupidity” is not a word that doesn’t apply to this movie. No horror film that is revered and studied over a decade later because it’s stupid.

  • Uncle Creepy

    “It’s funny that you claim you ‘get it’, yet you refer to the entire POINT of the movie without knowing it, and scold the movie for it.”

    If the point of the movie was to be illogical, it’s irrational to the point of absurdity then it passed with flying colors, but that doesn’t mean it’s good, or groundbreaking for that matter.

    I scold the movie not for what it tried to do, but for the piss poor way it did things. You don’t “break the 4th wall” *snicker* by hitting it with stupidity. You just bounce off of it.

  • The Woman In Black

    That essay repeats the words “empathy” and “empathetic” 18 times, so I think it’s safe to assume that was the point of the film — to feel empathy for the family and thereby be shocked and disturbed but what’s happening to them. I must be some cold-hearted bitch because I wasn’t moved in the least by their plight. I couldn’t identify with them and wasn’t even slightly “inconsolable” as a result of the outcome. I’m all for experimentation in theatre and cinema — break the 4th wall, break character, whatever — when it works. In this case, for me, it didn’t. Maybe it’s just as simple as I have no preconceived notions about violence and therefore was immune to the film’s message.

  • G.D.

    “It’s not just illogical, it’s irrational to the point of absurdity, thereby destroying any illusion or idea the movie was trying to set forth.”

    It’s funny that you claim you ‘get it’, yet you refer to the entire POINT of the movie without knowing it, and scold the movie for it.

  • Undeadmin

    all these comments and not a signle one of you bothered to write your own review. for shame.

  • Sirand

    BTW, here’s a great essay on Funny Games which perfectly sums up what the film is all about:

  • Sirand

    You’re attacking the rational of an irrational movie. It’s an experiment in the subversive. Not to mention that a lot of those scenarios are actually played with a black humor slant. You EXPECT the family to grow strong and fight back, but instead Haneke gives you victims that are paralyzed with fear. It’s a fight or flight world, and the family tries for the latter…and they fail at every turn.

  • Uncle Creepy

    “She did scold them, both damning them as well as spitting in their faces. She also tried to murder one of them”

    Yeah when there was like 10 mins left of the movie. What about the eighty minutes before that when Watts was sauntering around the house going about her business? At one point even talking to another GROUP of adults while one of her scrawny captors who was unarmed at the time was standing right next to her without a care in the world?

    Her families lives were on the line! That’s not a game. It’s bad writing. Again, It’s not just illogical, it’s irrational to the point of absurdity, thereby destroying any illusion or idea the movie was trying to set forth.

  • Tristan Sinns

    >>”wont even at the very least scold their captors. ”

    She did scold them, both damning them as well as spitting in their faces. She also tried to murder one of them, and even had pretty good success at that, until the film said, no no no, you (the viewer) can’t have it this way.

    One solid thing I’ll give you is the husband should not have turned his back on the two at the beginning, making himself an easy target. Never, ever, turn your back on someone who might want to swat you. I got my nose broken Christmas night of 1987 for such a mistake, lol!

    It’s really moot anyway. The two perps could have been 2-foot-tall anorexic dwarfs named Susan and Naomi still would have lost; the film wanted them to lose!

  • Uncle Creepy

    LOL @ “breaking the 4th wall”, btw.

    Naomi Watts was bigger than both those lil yuppie brats. No matter how you look at it, there’s no way, NO WAY, anyone whose family is on the line, whose lives are one the line, wont even at the very least scold their captors. Honestly I can buy a zombie apocalypse more than I can buy that.

    It’s not just illogical, it’s irrational to the point of absurdity, thereby destroying any illusion or idea the movie was trying to set forth.

    If the film was trying to play a game with the audience and that was it’s sole basis, at least with this viewer, it failed miserably. And believe me, I “got” where it was going, and what the director was doing, and I still thought it was complete and total shit, with the acting being the sole redeeming part of the film. For me, this was a half-hearted, half-assed, dimwitted experiment gone completely awry.

    Funny Games is easily on my shit list for 2008. Like WIB said earlier, one man’s awesome is another man’s awful. Aint it the truth!

  • Sirand

    Funny Games, both the original and the remake are masterpieces.

    WIB, you’re missing the point and arguing against the film’s own reality (or “game” as I should say). It’s a movie that breaks the fourth wall and exists for the sole purpose of taunting its audience and their preconcieved notions about film violence.

  • Tristan Sinns

    Fighting back wasn’t really a possibility that’ll yield any positive results. Consider the movie as a malignant sentient thing and the two smiling nincompoops as clownish extensions of its will. There is nothing this film cannot destroy that is within its grasp, and it’ll cheat any chance of fighting back its victims try to take (e.g., “rewind”).

    Being angry at this film is exactly what Haneke wanted!

  • The Woman In Black

    What a ridiculous premise for a film! The day I let a couple of snot-nosed prepsters terrorize my family with nothing more than a bunch of one-liners and a golf club is the day I deserve to die a horrible, painful death. I’d be kicking and screaming and everything else I could think of to save myself and my loved ones. For this couple not to even try to fight back was totally unbelievable, especially once THREE other people stopped by the house. Five adults and a kid could easily take out two teen-agers. Right there it lost me completely. 2 out of 5 at best — and that’s only because the performances were top-notch. Otherwise, I’m with UC — Funny Games is perfectly poised to be on my list of worst of the year.

  • Uncle Creepy

    Just seen it. It’s without question on my worst of 2008 list thus far. It’s a completely implausible and pretentious shit fest.

  • Tristan Sinns

    >>”I don’t see a point to this movie at all,”

    Haneke’s point was to bring the film to American audiences. He knew his original film was barely seen here. He wanted the story to be seen by the people he had intended it for.

  • mansuave

    I don’t see a point to this movie at all, less of a point, in fact, than all the other remakes we’ve been bombarded with. None of the recent spate of horror remakes have been any good, but at the very least they’ve been presented with a different sensibility. Not necessarily a particularly admirable sensibility, but a different one. In this case, this new FUNNY GAMES, it’s just Haneke doing something he’s done before in the exact same way. Sure, it’s in English, and there are a couple recognizable, Hollywood-tested stars, but it’s the same damn movie. I’d rather watch Zombie’s HALLOWEEN another dozen time than watch Haneke gaze at his navel.

  • Tristan Sinns

    >>”So is it safe to say that the only real effort that Haneke had to take in making this was finding a new cast?”

    I think that’s grossly over-simplifying what he’s done here, but technically that’s correct, at least as far as the story line is involved. I don’t think he rewrote much of the story at all, except to translate the dialogue to English.

    The only change I can think of offhand was that Naomi Watts performed a good stretch of film in her underwear, while the actress in the original wore a slip. See the round table interview for details on that…

  • Sirand

    I can’t believe a shot-for-shot remake was better than the orignal, but it was. Haneke pulled it off brilliantly.

  • Hunter1006

    So is it safe to say that the only real effort that Haneke had to take in making this was finding a new cast? Not that that’s a bad thing, I’m just wondering, because I love the original.