Much ado has been (and, I guarantee, will be) made about "Funny Games", Austrian director Michael Haneke's shot-for-shot remake of his own 1997 film about an upper-class family whose vacation home is sieged by a pair of hyper-polite, indescribably cruel psychopaths, and now, it has hit theaters. So, what's to be made of Haneke's experiment?
Let me preface my review by saying that I understand what Haneke is trying to accomplish here, I really do. However, I'm more in league with critic Josh Larsen's perspective on the matter: "If the pot means to call the kettle black in order to make a larger point, that still doesn't change the pot's color." Haneke goes for broke trying to show American audiences how our thirst for cinematic violence has led to films like "Hostel", but in the process, he's created a piece of torture porn more laborious and brutal than anything that's come before it. And no, I'm not exaggerating. Just because you release your film in art-house theaters doesn't mean that it's art.
Once the young men, Paul and Peter (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbett) make their way into the house, the early uneasiness that the film conjures goes out the window. After assaulting George (Tim Roth) with a golf club, they take him, along with his wife Ann (Naomi Watts) and son George (Devon Gearhart) into the living room, and make a mocking bet: they wager that the family will be dead by 9:00 the next morning. Psychological and physical torture ensues, occasionally with both in play at once.
This is pretty much as far as the plot goes, for we then witness an hour and a half of absolute madness. I had difficulty sitting through much of this film, and this is coming from somebody who speaks favorably of both "A Clockwork Orange" and "The Devil's Rejects", two films that look like child's play next to this. Haneke goes to great pains to subvert horror cliches, and it sparingly works. Undoubtedly, the most disarming moments of the film are when Pitt's character looks at the camera and directly addresses the audience in the middle of scenes, which serves to break that ever-comfortable fourth wall audiences have, that which allows us to tell ourselves "it's only a movie". However, this is a trick that belongs in a better film. Most of the film taboos broken only make this more disgusting. One sequence between Gearhart and Pitt might be the most nauseating example of child endangerment ever caught on film, and (spoiler warning) when Ann is killed, it is done so casually you almost miss her death entirely, which I guess is Haneke's way of showing us that the popularity of an actor should not dictate their ending.
The most brutal sequences of the film are kept offscreen, which supporters of this film say keeps Haneke from being a hypocrite, and which I say is his cowardly attempt to keep himself feeling more righteous than the audience he's judging (and which is also paying for his film, but I digress). He really lays the anti-American sentiment on thick, especially in the final discussion in the film, between Peter and Paul, where they talk about how murder is murder, whether in reality or fiction, and that fiction might be the more real of the two. Ha-ha.
I could ramble on and on about the levels on which this film fails, but I would be rehashing a tired point, and then I'd be no better than Haneke, so I'll simply say that there is no purpose for this film, other than to manipulate audiences and try to lay on a guilt-trip so hackneyed that "Babel" looks sincere by comparison. This might be the most blatant example I've ever seen of an artist being given free reign to do whatever he wants, and flying off the rails beyond recovery. Trash like this proves why general audiences won't watch foreign films.
(One final note. According to Haneke, he wanted to remake his film in order to prove a point to Americans who abide cinematic trash. The fact is, as someone who loved "Grindhouse" and watches professional wrestling, I'm evidently the sort of ignorant peon that Haneke is wagging his finger at. I can still sleep easily, because I will continue to be happy with my cinematic comfort food, and he will continue to be a pretentious hack, and we will both be sticking to what we know.)