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Funny Games

Michael Pitt in Funny Games

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Original theatrical trailer; Interview with Director Michael Haneke.

LOVE it or loathe it (and there’s really no in between), Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is one of the most provactive films of the year… and for many reasons.

First and foremost, it’s a shot by shot remake of his own 1997 original that begs the inevitable question: why bother? Secondly, it furthers the debate about on-screen violence by carefully examining the audience’s relationship to it and asking some pretty distressing questions. And thirdly, are the events on-screen as completely devoid of reason as they appear? Or do they have some higher meaning by taking the form of a morbid cautionary tale?

George (Tim Roth), Anna (Naomi Watts) and their son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) are preparing to enjoy a weekend at their holiday home when two polite strangers (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) arrive all dressed in white outfits and white gloves. One asks Anna for some eggs and then drops them, creating a certain amount of tension between them.

When he repeats the request, she refuses and asks them to leave. When they don’t, the situation becomes more forceful until the two young men reveal the real reason why they are there…

Certainly, for this reviewer, it was both fun and utterly terrifying to find out. Having not seen Haneke’s Austrian original (as, I suspect, most mainstream audiences won’t have), Funny Games has plenty to keep viewers on their toes (which immediately removes the “why bother” aspect of the equation).

In fact, the tension is often unbearable as Pitt and Corbet put Anna and her family through all manner of psychological and physical humiliation with increasingly damaging results.

The director certainly doesn’t pull any punches or make any Hollywood concessions as the film approaches its grim end, rather toying with perceptions and even playing some cruel tricks along the way without ever resorting to the voyeuristic violence that bedevils so many mainstream productions.

Rather, he makes the viewer as much of an accessory as the participants themselves, questioning notions of what’s right and what’s fair as well as what’s deemed shocking or not.

Some may find this infuriating (particularly during one rewound interjection), while others may admire the radical nature of its approach and ideas. But you’ll seldom be sitting comfortably.

Performance-wise, the cast is superb. Watts, Roth and Gearhart expertly balance their fear with a gritty determination to survive and comply, while Corbet and Pitt deliver two of the most chillingly serene sociopaths of recent years. The set pieces, too, are often nerve-shreddingly intense and stay with viewers for some time afterwards.

As a film in its own right, Funny Games is a cold and unnerving experience that’s difficult to like. But it grips and engages the intellect in a way that puts most mainstream horror movies to shame and, for those reasons alone, remains a compelling and highly recommended ordeal for anyone willing to submit themselves to it.

Certificate: 18
Running time: 111mins
UK DVD Release: July 28, 2008