It is impossible to have a neutral opinion about the Austrian thriller Funny Games --a movie so relentless in its ability to shock that it gained pariah status on the film festival circuit in 1997. In the warped tradition of A Clockwork Orange, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and Blue Velvet, this is a film--directed with electrifying audacity by Munich-born Michael Haneke--that addresses the controversy of screen violence by making the viewer as guilty as the Leopold and Loeb-like killers who terrorize a young family of three during their summer vacation. They arrive as friendly neighbors, seducing the family with phony congeniality, but soon Funny Games reveals its devious strategy, turning savage and appalling... and completely captivating for those who can endure the terror. There's actually less violence than you'd see in a typical American horror flick such as Scream, but Haneke's forceful staging effectively fulfills his agenda of viewer complicity; we vividly experience this doomed family's fate and feel helpless to save them. So helpless, in fact, that Haneke dares to offer a hint of respite by giving a victim the upper hand, only to "replay" the same scene with the darkest of outcomes. Funny Games is guaranteed to outrage some viewers with its manipulative schemes, but there's no denying the film's visceral impact, generated by Haneke's expert handling of a superior cast. Don't even think of allowing anyone under age 17 to watch this film; all others should proceed with caution. --Jeff Shannon
Shall we begin?
Michael Haneke is a modern master, which his spellbinding films Cache and The Piano Teacher proved to an international audience. When it came time for a Hollywood remake of his ultra-disturbing 1997 picture Funny Games, who better than Haneke himself to helm the new version? And indeed, the second Funny Games bears the impeccable sense of control and technique that the Austrian version had: it is a horrifyingly precise account of a family terrorized by two psychopathic young thugs at a vacation home. For anyone who's already seen the '97 film, this new one--a nearly shot-by-shot transcription of the original--will seem superfluous, no matter how impressive the performances of Naomi Watts and Tim Roth are. (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet are suitably creepy as their menacers, too.) For newbies, the movie might be as infuriating and thought-provoking as Haneke intends it to be. That's because Funny Games is an intellectual game itself, a direct rebuke to the audience that gobbles up gratuitous violence and cynical manipulation. Haneke sets up our expectations, and then refuses to provide the conventional catharsis… or the conventional anything. All of this was pretty bracing in the first go-round, but feels like gamesmanship in the remake. Even if you dig what Haneke's up to, this is a brutal movie-watching experience. --Robert Horton