As our movie begins, the Farber family, George, Ann and son George Jr. are traveling to their vacation home, ready to enjoy a quiet time away from home and be with friends. As they drive to their home, they see some of their neighbors with a couple of young men visiting with them, and they think nothing of it really. Eventually though, the two young men, dressed as though they’re a couple of rich boys ready to hang out at the tennis club, work their way to the Farber house, one helping George put his sailboat in the water and the other approaching Ann to borrow some eggs. The one borrowing the eggs, drops them and gets Ann to give him some more, starting to grate on her nerves in the process and then the other then comes into scene as both young men are chased back into the house by the Farber’s dog… and from there, a night of terror begins, as the young men force themselves upon the Farbers, injuring George, and then encouraging the family to play games with them leading up to a bet they made of whether or not the Farbers will be able to survive until the next morning.
And that is how Funny Games begins, but beware, the Funny Games of the title aren’t the “games” that the young men are “playing” with the Farbers, it’s more the game that director Michael Haneke is playing with the audience in this intense study of more how voyeuristic an audience gets with the presentation of extreme violence.
Funny Games is a direct remake of Haneke’s original German language version of the film. And when I say direct, it’s just that, shot for shot but this time cast with English speaking parts. I’ve been fortunate to have seen the original (I actually own it on DVD) and I was blown away by it the first time I saw it, and I honestly think that this new version is even more effective just by the fact that it is shot in English and as such, I’m not necessarily dividing my time watching the action and reading the subtitles (which I normally don’t have a problem doing anyway). Haneke has a definite message that he’s putting forward here and I very much admire how he does it, even though I may not necessarily agree with it (Lars von Trier is the same way, I may not agree with his message in many of his films, but I certainly respect how he does it, especially considering that he’s not part of the Hollywood “machine”).
Now when I tell you that the movie is extremely violent, it’s more in your perception of that violence than anything else as much of it is handled off-camera, except for one key point in the film, and that key point will be the point that will be the deciding factor for most of the audience, there they’ll either get it, or they’ll wonder what the hell they’ve been doing in the theatre for the last hour and a half. And though this moment is set up with prior scenes, it’ll still be the one that’s the deciding factor. Prior to this version of the film, I’ve only seen this movie home alone, so actually seeing this with an audience (albeit a small one) and hearing the reaction when the moment came up was actually satisfying, and really played into Haneke’s game, but concludes in a way that the audience doesn’t want it to conclude.
Haneke’s got an incredible cast at work here, Tim Roth and Naomi Watts are George and Ann and both performances are terrific and with Watts in particular I think it’s one of the best things that she’s done yet. Michael Pitt and Brady Corbett are the young men, and they’re very good in the parts of these unlikely villains, almost seeming fragile in appearance, and playing both cloyingly polite and sadistic at the same time.
Funny Games is certainly not for everyone, I’ll tell you that straight up. It’s definitely an art house movie and the audience for the movie has got to be ready to bring something to the table as well. If you’ve been able to watch such disturbing fare as The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover or Irreversible or Man Bites Dog and have been able to “get” those movies, then Funny Games should be right up your alley. It’s certainly right up mine and so far is an early contender for one of the best movies of 2008, at least in my eyes.