Thursday, June 12, 2008
Funny Games (2008)
"The rules are simple, pick a family...and make them play" Says the tagline of the film upon it's release earlier this year. Funny Games is a shot for shot remake of an Austrian film by the same director; Micheal Haneke. Upon it's original release in 1997, the idea behind the film was a simple statement about violence. Why do we love it so much? Why are we so entertained by it? Why does it bring movie patrons to the theaters in droves, to watch other people suffer for our amusement? We simply don't know. Funny Games writer/director Michael Haneke doesn't seem to understand it either, but he's well aware of our society's love for "sex and violence" and that's what inspired him to make this film. To make you feel upset, uncomfortable, and by the end of the film's running time...asking yourself "why did I stay till the end of this?" It's original release in Austria and most of Europe garnered applause and praise tantamount to it's protest and hatred all the same. Haneke however was hoping for such a response from both sides of the spectrum and felt his job was done. So why the remake 10 years or so later? Simply put, maybe the audience's fascination with sex & violence needs to be taught a lesson in seeking out such entertainment. For years we've marveled at the screen at the "shoot first, ask questions later" policy of Dirty Harry, watched in horror as Dustin Hoffman is terrorized in Straw Dogs, and to come up a little more to the modern times of watching robots take out the US Army by the hundreds in Transformers. Haneke figured that an english spoken version with actors we admire at the helm is the best way to reach the desensitized audience that we have become.
Our film begins with George, Anna, and George Jr in a picturesque scenery drive through the countryside on their way to their vacation house. Smiles, loving conversations, guessing games of music among the parents within the first few minutes of the credits make you think this is going to be a nice film (What other way to describe it?) Then you're bludgeoned by the surprise of obnoxious and frantic grind music that makes you wonder "what the hell?" Upon arrival, they greet their distant relatives; and neighbors and tell them they are excited for a golf match tomorrow. Their relatives don't seem their usual selves and George and Anna notice too. "who do you suppose those two were with them?"
Haneke uses a subtle pacing that allows to you get to know your characters for the little time they have to be themselves before the true horror begins. They are a happy family, Dad and Son love boating, Mom is in the kitchen making steaks and making plans for visitors. Not the visitors that we expect. We are greeted by Peter and Paul, or so they call themselves. Seem like genuinely good kids, well dressed, well spoken, well mannered, well planned in their intentions. A simple "stop & go" visit to borrow some eggs is what sets off a chain reaction of violence and murder. The two youngsters take the family hostage and give them a scenario that they are betting the family won't live past tomorrow morning. Haneke takes you on a journey through this film with a style that is almost similar to Gus Van Sant's films like Elephant and Last Days.
Generally, remakes in my opinion are often something frowned upon, because let's face it; why would you fix something that isn't really broke in the first place? It's very rare that I come across certain remakes that stand out over the original in certain ways. This film doesn't entirely replace the general excitement and shock value of seeing the original Austrian film some 10 years ago...This film does however bring out some of the strongest performance I've seen of our actors involved this time around. Tim Roth (Reservoir Dogs, Youth Without Youth, Pulp Fiction) and Naomi Watts (Mulholland Dr, King Kong, The Ring) truly convince us of seeing the face of terror when the film unravels the plans that Peter and Paul have for them. The screams feel real, the tears look real, the terror feels close to home. Even Devon Gearhart delivers a performance that most kids wouldn't be able to understand in approaching, let alone executing. The strongest points of this film however lie in our two antagonists (or protagonists depending on how you view this film) Peter and Paul or Tom and Jerry or Beavis and Butthead...the two call each other so many names that you tend to wonder who they even are. Michael Pitt (The Dreamers, Last Days, Bully) and Brady Corbet (Mysterious Skin, Thirteen, 24) bring performances that are truly recognizable. The two have a chemistry with one another that can throw you off from time to time and make you forget you're watching these two young men torture a family for no reason.
Funny Games more than anything, is simply a critical look at violence. What sets this film aside from most torture films like Hostel, is the simple fact that Haneke isn't glorifying violence in any way possible. As a matter of fact, this film isn't meant to be viewed as entertainment. This film's intention is really to make the audience feel like part of the "crime", as Paul constantly addresses the screen and speaks to the audience asking "who's side are you on?" and his winks and smiles towards our audience are just one of the many ways the two antogonists try to connect with the audience; adding a different layer of discomfort that we aren't used to in watching films like this. Haneke always considered this film to be more of an American style look at violence than European; He's even said that in interviews. Though the film itself doesn't glorify violence the way Americans do, this remake is simply a cathartic view of depression in a different setting. With the intent and message behind the film stripped away, there isn't much else left. Story? Lack there of really, however maybe it's the simple set up and the idea of the message that makes the film as memorable and uncomfortable today as it was 10 years ago.