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Tonight’s Review: Funny Games 1997
directed by Michael Haneke
Genre: Horror (of the DEEPLY, DEEPLY, psychologically, disturbing variety)
I’m not a big horror movie fan, basically because I’m a wicked chickenshit when it comes to viewing onscreen blood and gore, but like Mr. Carlson, I’ll watch anything. OK, almost anything.
I was duly warned about how disturbing "Funny Games" is, and I almost decided against watching it for fear it would overwhelmingly freak me out. Then I read that people had walked out of this film. That was all I needed to know. Whenever I hear that people have walked out of a movie, I’m automatically intrigued, even if I know I may be witness to some seriously disturbing movie content (i.e. the torture scene between Michael Madsen and the hostage-cop in Reservoir Dogs or the infamous motel bathroom scene in Scarface when Al Pacino and his friend are handcuffed to the shower curtain bar by a crooked drug-dealer who hacks Pacino’s buddy right before his eyes with a handy chain-saw….AGGGGGGHHHHHH) Of course, Pacino is so damn cool that he still spits in his tormentor’s face when faced with the same demise. Don’t FUCK with Tony Montana, MENG! What a surprise, my first movie review and already I’m off on a tangent…. OK - back to Michael Haneke’s film:
So, I basically dared myself to watch "Funny Games". WHOOOOOO BOYEEEEEEEEEE - what a mistake! Or so I thought, after watching the movie in it’s entirety. I was so shaken, that I had to immediately watch something, ANYTHING else to shake the disturbing thoughts and images that were floating in my head. Then I slowly realized that, even though I was totally freaked out by this movie, I was also immensely intrigued and riveted because everything director Michael Haneke was trying to make the audience feel for the victims - sickening dread, sheer unnervedeness (is that a word?), profound psychological distress, helplessness, shock and morbid fear, he masterfully succeeded. That he evokes all these feelings with such finesse and an almost genteel manner, makes the whole experience all the more disturbing. Did I mention that, besides feeling hopelessly unnerved, that the director also turns the tables on the viewer by making them complicit in viewing the horror and torture and you end feeling guilty for watching this movie? Yeah, how’s that for a viewing bonus! Yet, I couldn’t stop watching the horror, the torture, the games, which is what this movie is REALLY about.
In a nutshell, Funny Games centers around 5 people. Georg, Anna and their son Georgie are a quiet, somewhat reserved family who go on "holiday" (that’s vacation for you non-Europeans) to their quaint, bucolic lakefront summer home in the countryside. The setting is sedate and idyllic and lulls the viewer along at a relaxing pace. Ironically, it is the same comforting lull of the lazy hot summer and sedate countryside setting that suckers the viewer into a sense of familiarity and ease which will be shattered to the core as surely as it is for Georg, Anna and Georgie, almost in sync with each character.
Evil Incarnate arrives in the form of the unfailingly polite young man named Peter, who comes knocking on the family’s front door to borrow some eggs. Anna greets the kind stranger, while George and Georgie are down at the lake tinkering on their boat. Who knew that a simple and polite request for eggs on a hot summer day in the countryside could turn so horribly twisted and unnerving? I certainly didn’t and again, I credit the director for creating the illusion of trust and playing on the viewer’s neighborly instincts to behave in exactly the same manner as Anna does when she greets the polite young man looking to borrow some eggs. Peter accidently drops the eggs and apologizes profusely while Anna cleans up the mess. Oh, I could definitely picture myself doing the same thing. Yep. That’s the point. Everyone is unfailingly polite, and then it starts to slowly sink in that Peter, while being so pleasant and "nice", is also carrying on about the eggs to the point of annoyance. Enter Paul, who comes a-knocking on the same door and is greeted by his friend Peter, who politely introduces him to Anna, while still apologizing about the egg situation. Thus beginneth the "Funny Games"
Paul and Peter begin to obsess a little too much about the eggs, all the while maintaining a polite, subdued manner and much like a tea kettle slowly coming to a boil, it becomes apparent to both Anna and the audience that Paul and Peter are not going to be leaving anytime soon. When Georg and Georgie arrive back at the house and inquire about what is going on with the two boys, it is clear that they have overstayed their welcome and they are asked to leave. I guess you could say all hell breaks loose here, but in actuality, the manner in which the hell is unleashed is as subdued and sedate as the countryside setting.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: If you've not seen the film, bail out -- the next paragraph contains some BIG-ASS SPOILERS.)
Peter and Paul’s true intent quietly unfolds as they take the family hostage and then proceed to torture the family through a series of verbal and psychologically taunting games. Interestingly, there are only two or three moments of onscreen violence. It is the twisted, yet always polite delivery of the verbal torment and the offscreen torture and sounds which make Funny Games far more disturbing than your garden-variety horror flick. The director even plays games with the viewer several times by having Paul (who is far scarier than Jason, Freddy or Michael Myers on their worst day….) turn to the camera to literally wink and smirk at the audience. Yes, the movie mocks you for your inability to stop watching the horror. In one particularly clever moment, the family and the audience have an opportunity to strike back at the tormenters and exact some vigilante-style justice, only to have the moment literally rewinded by Paul via a remote control. No sirree, there is NO way the audience is going to get one iota of gleeful retaliation. There is NO redemption for the family or the audience and that’s the way it should be for the movie to have maximum impact. I’ll admit, I haven’t seen many independent flicks of the horror genre, so I don’t have much to compare this film to, but that’s probably why this film worked so effectively for me. The subtleness with which this family is psychologically tortured and eventually disposed of is perhaps one of the most disturbing, yet fascinating directorial feats I’ve ever witnessed.
GRADE: A solid "A"
Oh yeah - remind me NOT to open the door the next time a solicitor comes calling....