Funny Games U.S. (2007)

Foreign language film is a dirty word to the American movie industry. Perhaps Hollywood hates subtitles, is outraged by accents or disgusted by literacy. Whatever the reason it belligerently believes the audience has an all mighty aversion to the helpful translating type which makes our eyes bilingual even if our ears are not.

Time after time instead of giving world cinema the distribution  and promotion it deserves Hollywood would rather remake in its own image and its own language adding some stars along the way to supposedly sell more seats. Asking a director to remake his movie purely because it’s not in English seems like the most offensive thing you could do. However a true auteur will take the opportunity to refine and refresh their original.

George Sluizer’s The Vanishing may have cost over 10 times what original Dutch version had in 1988 but was money well spent, apart fromthe changed Hollywood ending that is. Ole Bornedal reproduced his creepy mortuary set thriller Nattevagten creating the equally nightmarish Nightwatch whilst getting a great performance out of Ewan McGregor in the process.

With Funny Games U.S, Michael Haneke, a man who courts controversy, has succeeded in the same, revisiting his already perfect psychological sadistic flick and Americanising it keeping all the dread and realism whilst also passing comment on American society and the horror film as a whole.

George (Tim Roth), his wife Ann (Naomi Watts) and their son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) arrive for a family holiday at their lake house in the secluded and affluent neighborhood, unaware that their peace and solitude will soon be shattered by a sadistic pair named Peter and Paul (Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt respectively).

Taking them captive the psychotic, unhinged and seemingly unmotivated young men taunt and toy with the trio putting them through a series of humiliating and nasty tests for their own entertainment with the perpetual promise that if they survive they will be released. What transpires is a torturous and tense series of games which are anything but funny and will keep you on the edge of your seat with your hands over your eyes ’til the final frame.

Allegedly a shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 original, with even the house recreated from blueprints of the first set, Haneke knows not to mess with what works and thus keeps all the anxiety, fear and realism that made the precursor so brilliant and brutal.

Appearing at first to be yet another torture porn picture, the film has a intellect and artistry much deeper than the dirge that presents the pain and suffering of others as entertainment. As much a test for the audience as it is for the characters Funny Games challenges you to watch on as events unfold forcing you to sit through not only the suffering but the aftermath as well and making you question your position and responsibility as a voyeur to such disturbing acts.

By casting Roth and Watts we are lured into liking the family instantly as we know their familiar faces . Both are brilliantly truthful in every emotion that they display, making the film all the more difficult to watch (as an aside Roth said making the film abused him and he’d never watch it because Devon Gearhart resembled his own son so much).

Corbet and Pitt are equally excellent and bring a different dynamic not found in the original playing the teenage torturers like characters from a Bret Easton Ellis novel, over privileged and apathetic, playing their sadistic games simply because they can.

Like Christopher Nolan’s version of the Joker their names and back stories are ever changing, meaning we never really know who they are or what motivates them. They are simultaneously disgusted, aroused and fascinated by their own actions, mirroring the audience but not always at the same point.

Working on every level but primarily and most importantly as a shocking and scary horror film, Funny Games U.S proves that remakes can work well if made by the originator.

If remaking it in English has meant more people see Haneke masterpiece it was worth the waste, however as it is still a remake it doesn’t get a 5.

Movie Rating: ★★★★½ 

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3 comments

FUNNY GAMES U.S. is a brilliant work of art. The first ten minutes are serene, we meet a happy family as they arrive to their lake house. Then the games begin. Two polite young men show up and ask for eggs. Probably this early foreplay is the only funny part of the film, as the two white dressed play with the mother (Naomi Watts) while her son and husband (Tim Roth) are trying to launch the boat. They try to upset her and they succeed. Michael Pitt as the psychotic Paul (see him in The Dreamers by Bernardo Bertolluci) gives probably the best performance of the film because he does not pretend to be happy about tormenting this family, he really enjoys himself by the suffering he inflicts upon his victims. That’s a risky role to play and Pitt plays it like golf.

This film is indifferent to your expectations, the violence is presented off screen yet the film affects its viewers more than Cape Fear or Fatal Attraction because the family dies and the killers get away with it. This is an art film which takes a certain sadistic pleasure of traumatizing the wanna-be psychos in the audience. They sure do need this forced attrition, it’s like volunteering to take a tranquilizer. The monsters are in the audience.There are three times when Michael Pitt looks straight at the camera smiling or asking us questions, such as: Do you think it’s enough? You want a real ending with possible plot development, don’t you? This may be one of the most unpleasant films ever made, it does not glorify violence (like so many other films do), makes you think twice before watching another movie that sells you fear and aggression as entertainment. If FUNNY GAMES U.S. won’t entertain you then Michael Haneke has won the game.

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