Funny Games U.S.
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet
I can’t remember why, but I read about this film for some reason or another and was immediately intrigued by the premise. It sounded like it was similar to The Strangers, which I was told by Adam was actually a very good horror film, even though I thought the trailer made it look, well, kind of silly. Nevertheless, I figured it would be a good film to watch on a movie night, so Adam and I sat down to watch this movie knowing very, very little about it. I personally ended up loving it.
So this is actually a shot for shot remake of writer/director Michael Haneke’s 1997 film of the same name, only in English and with different actors. But the plot is fairly simple: A family (Watts, Roth and Devon Gearhart) go to their lake house for a vacation. Not long after they begin unpacking and preparing their boat/dinner, a young man (Corbet) appears asking to borrow some eggs. After a while a second man (Pitt) arrives and the situation slowly escalates before they begin terrorizing the family and playing a bunch of sadistic ‘games’ with the family, essentially holding them hostage.
Disclaimer: The title is misleading, as the games are not, in fact, funny.
Naomi Watts and Tim Roth are both excellent actors, and I have always enjoyed watching them work. So needless to say they do a great job in this movie. Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet are both happily creepy and act very polite while terrorizing this family, and they play the part a little too well. It’s very uneasy. What surprised me the most, however, was the fact that the child actor, Devon Gearhart, did a good enough job not to have me hate him. Normally little child actors are either really really bad, or just super creepy. This kid had some extended scenes where it was just him being scared, and it all seemed believable to me, and the kid did a great job with it.
I actually was unsure what category or genre I should put this movie in, my instinct is that it’s a horror movie but at the same time, it is nothing at all like a ‘conventional’ horror film. There are film conventions that are messed with, but in general it’s not a typical slasher/gorefest horror film and had much more suspense and intrigue than horrific moments. Any violence always occurs off screen, and in a way that’s even more terrifying, as your imagination always seems to go to the worst possible scenario. There is a scene where a character is hiding in a deserted house, and one of the men is chasing after them. Instead of the usual ‘darkness is spooky’ route, any time a light comes on in the house that indicates the man is nearby and it becomes a lot more terrifying to see bright lights than to see the character hidden in the dark. On that same note, the two men dress all in white, with white gloves, and seeing a completely white figure against the dark night backdrop walking towards the camera is so much scarier than not knowing where he is.
I’ll admit that I adore when filmmakers fuck with conventions, and I’d rather see a really poorly done film that tries something new, than to see a tried and true formulaic comedy that on all accounts is done well, because it just gets boring. I felt however that this movie not only challenged some film conventions that most would be uncomfortable with, but he succeeded in what he set out to do.
For example, there are numerous times where one of the characters directly addresses the audience, effectively breaking the ‘fourth wall.’ This is something seen in theatre sometimes, and Will Smith does it often on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but it’s rarely seen in film. Film is, to speak generally, used as a ‘realistic’ medium, and therefore breaking the fourth wall is going completely against that idea. It happens about three times in the movie, the first time I actually missed at first, the second time I was completely confused by, but the third time clicked with me, and I realized what the purpose of it was. There are other things that are done, like a ‘rewinding’ scene where a character literally rewinds the movie when something doesn’t go his way, and the ending of the film is done in such a strange way that you wonder if you’re even watching a movie anymore, and more importantly, who the main characters really are.
The movie starts really simply, with the aforementioned family driving to their lake house and playing a sort of ‘classical music guessing game’ where they play a classical piece and the other guesses who the composer is, and the title of the piece. This is interrupted really suddenly however when some hard, thrasing metal cuts into the movie and the main titles are displayed. All the while the family is still listening to the classical music and smiling, laughing and enjoying themselves, while we have this really obtrusive style of music juxtaposed over top of it. It completely threw me at first and I was so confused but again, as the movie went on I began to realize what the filmmaker was trying to do.
Other than that opening scene, and the same hardcore music played from a stereo in the house later on, there is absolutely no musical score to the film. This was obviously a choice by the director and it works wonderfully. I really couldn’t see this movie working as well as it did with a musical score, it would completely ruin the feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
I really loved this movie. I’m not even sure why, but I thought it was clever, and unique, and was an excellent commentary on horror movies and movies in general. There is an extensive essay that Michael Haneke wrote about violence in film that you can find by digging around the movie’s official website. But the movie wasn’t without it’s faults, although they were few and far between. There is a sort of mini plot regarding a cell phone that I know Adam really disliked, and I definitely saw why, as it was probably the weakest moment in the film. But for me, it didn’t detract from the rest of the movie enough for me to care. Of course there are many questions left unanswered and many things I didn’t really understand, character ‘motivation’ wise, but in my mind everything was done so precisely and deliberately that I can’t fault the movie for it. Do yourself a favor and give this movie a chance, and just remember to watch it with an open mind.