How does Haneke’s remake hold up?
Leave it to German director Michael Haneke to swoop into our current atmosphere of no-nonsense, gory, torture-steeped horror and throw something back in our face that challenges it all with a deliberately-paced, equally no-nonsense revisit to his 1997 shocker called Funny Games. Warner Independent is scheduled to drop it on audiences January 18, 2008 (!), but Shock got in on a super-advance screening of the film in Hollywood. A more thorough review will come closer to its release, in the meantime this writer wants to scratch down some initial thoughts here…
The premise plays out familiar enough to those who have seen the original: A mother, father and their son swing out to their lake house and are visited by two clean-cut young men who infiltrate their archetypal happy family unit and shred it to pieces beyond any chance of healing. Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Devon Gearhart are the targets of Michael Pitt and Brady Corbett’s vicious, frustrating “games.”
Haneke has delivered what’s essentially an anti-Hostel; an answer to our current yearning for over-the-top violence and excessive, stylistic entertainment. The catch is, it’s total art house fare and it will not play to everyone’s tastes. But not since seeing the French thriller Ils earlier this year has a film made my palms sweat, my knee flinch in dreaded anticipation of the degradation to come, my tastes in entertainment truly called into question.
Was I entertained? You f**kin’ bet – but not without the presence of that creeping guilt I get whenever I toss on Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left. This isn’t a fun film. It’s not an audience participation film although it reminds you several times that you’re very much participating in the events as Pitt breaks the fourth wall and questions your allegiance to his prey or speaks of “plausible plot movement.” Haneke relishes and establishes the banalities of life then snuffs them out in a surprisingly reserved yet unflinching fashion that’s no less nerve-racking than any of the on-screen torture we’ve seen of the last two years. Most of Funny Games‘ atrocities occur off camera, but he captures the raw, dirty impact of the situation through sound effects and, more startling, the complete absence of a score. It’s tough to shake off this one’s sadistic streak.
Haneke’s pacing – as welcome and stressful as some of the film’s lingering single-shot takes can be – works to a fault. If anything, a “nip and tuck” pass at the film would do it wonders. Watts, Roth and Gearhart turn in brave performances; Pitt and Corbett, meanwhile, turn on the charm but keep us on constant alert.
This is a film that can’t come any sooner to turn the torture sub-genre on its head and serve as a crucial, poignant exclamation mark to its run. Brutal and altogether brilliant, I’m looking forward to seeing this again.