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Awesome: 23.91%
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4 reviews, 22 user ratings

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Funny Games (2008)
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by The Ultimate Dancing Machine

"Don’t Play. Push Eject."
1 stars

I have not seen Michael Haneke’s 1997 German-language FUNNY GAMES, but as his Americanized remake is said to be one of those shot-for-shot replicas a la Van Sant’s PSYCHO, I find myself led into morbid speculation about the qualities of the original: if the first movie was anywhere near this stupid, senseless, and self-important, why the hell did anyone want to recreate it? This is fundamentally a thesis film that pushes aside entertainment value—in fact, literally mocks the viewer for expecting entertainment value—in favor of presenting a simplistic and highly questionable point about the relationship between fictional film and real-life violence. It simply fails on every level.

Haneke puts a pair of patrician WASPs (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) and their son (Devon Gearhart) in a summer lake-house on vacation, where they are greeted by a pair of vaguely creepy Aryan-looking youths who, it soon becomes clear, get their kicks out of terrorizing people. Before long, the family finds itself held captive by our gruesome twosome, and forced to participate in a series of ever more humiliating and violent “games.”

Haneke, it seems, belongs that especially annoying type of European filmmaker: the director as celluloid terrorist. Like Lukas Moodysson and Catherine Breillat, he’s here to shake us out of our bourgeois complacency, and for our own good it had better hurt every moment of the way. To be fair, I’m not sure if his irritatingly static directorial style—scenes that go on way too long, unbroken shots that scream for edits—is part of the plan to rattle our cages, or if he really thinks he’s building suspense with all this studied Kubrickian monotony. But it’s clear that Haneke’s mission is to attack the cult of violence in cinema, all those kiss kiss bang bang films and the alleged cretins who flock to them. He’s made a violent movie where most of the violence occurs off screen; he’s made a thriller where the plot refuses to conform to genre conventions—or for that matter, basic storytelling conventions. It is, in short, something of an anti-thriller. He’s so intent on making the point that he introduces several jarring, heavy-handed fourth-wall interludes in which the killers address the audience directly and make fun of us for anticipating how the plot will turn out.

If this sounds a little artificial, it is; but if anything the film isn’t artificial enough. One dwells on the lapses in realism. How did these physically unimposing youths apparently manage to kill off everybody in the neighborhood? Why doesn’t the family try harder to resist their captors? Even after the psychos announce that they intend to commit murder? Why would anyone actually believe a pair of psycho killers who claim they’re leaving the premises and not coming back? Especially when they’ve already threatened to kill everyone? Why would someone venture outdoors unarmed when they know said psycho killers are running loose in the neighborhood? When you learn that a cell phone is in the car outside, why don’t you go get it and call for help when you have the chance? And does the director really think we're all a pack of knuckle-dragging boobs for wondering about this?

But what’s most bizarre about FUNNY GAMES is how its essentially banal, hoary ideas are presented as some shocking advance in cinema. Haneke seems to think that by defying genre expectations, he’s committing a sort of aesthetic insurrection—as if faking out the audience weren’t the goal of any decent thriller. That talking-to-the-camera stuff is not exactly new, and it’s particularly out of place here, given the gritty tenor of the film as a whole. And Haneke’s ruminations about violence merely regurgitate every left-wing cliché you’ve ever heard along these lines. Violence is bad; therefore, we are bad people for enjoying violent movies. This explains why, I think, he has abstained from offering any motivation for the killers’ rampage, except the one implied by all that busting of the fourth wall: they kill because we the audience like violence, both on screen and, by implication—here comes the bullshit—in real life. Shame on us.

The only proper response to this is one so obvious I hesitate to offer it, but it must be said: movies ain’t reality. There remains no proof that watching violent movies has a deleterious effect on the human mind. Linking reality and fiction like this is a favorite pastime among certain persons of an excessively idealistic turn of mind (and certain directors who take too seriously the Power of Cinema). It’s comforting to believe, as I suspect Haneke does, that people turn bad only from some external force—like “the media”—that can be brought under control, but a mass of scientific evidence suggests that sadistic and aggressive impulses are innate. It’s not so much that some people turn bad—most of us turn good, or reasonably close, only through a long process of socialization. Ironically, Haneke loses his grip on FUNNY GAMES in part because he doesn’t see that his Aryan nutjobs, who, like Ted Bundy, kill just because they feel like it, are more convincing than the mysterious ciphers he intended them to be. And by putting all his dubious theorizing front and center, he makes it impossible to take his film seriously as art, while simultaneously vitiating the tension and suspense that might have allowed it to succeed on the relatively modest terms of a conventional thriller.

The biggest irony is that in his attempt to condemn his leering audience, Haneke missed his target by a country mile: FUNNY GAMES bombed. Which suggests a philosophical conundrum: If a preachy film plays to empty theaters, does it make a sound?

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16153&reviewer=223
originally posted: 06/13/08 05:39:05
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Horror Remakes: For more in the Horror Remakes series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2008 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/13/18 Louise Gonsalves you are a genius! Even though this film didn't need to be remade/ 4 stars
10/30/16 morris campbell authentic but morbid no thrills just unpleasantness 1 stars
6/16/12 Jeffrey Dahmer Disturbing and REPULSIVE. 1 stars
5/18/12 Man Out Six Bucks Typical creepy catholic psycho spawn straight out of "Martyrs" 4 stars
5/12/12 Flipsider A History of Violence accomplishes the same thing in a much smarter way. 3 stars
8/24/11 chris What's wrong with you people? This is just cruelty the movie nothing more. 1 stars
10/15/09 Anonymous This was disturbing and thought provoking... 4 stars
3/02/09 mr.mike A formulaic ending would have rendered it more routine...and more satisfying. 3 stars
1/28/09 Andrew Interesting story, yet unsatisfying. 2 stars
1/06/09 Tatiana for a film discouraging violence, this does a good job. for a likable film, this is a -100. 4 stars
12/01/08 Shaun Wallner Kept me on the edge of the seat! 5 stars
10/12/08 jcjs33 wow, doesn't get any better and no 'graphic gore'..art, fantasmo..real..this stuff happens 5 stars
8/09/08 Bart Great look into the most interesting human psyche, your own! 5 stars
7/04/08 Louise Disturbing and well-made 4 stars
6/15/08 rachel fabulous review, this one sucked. 1 stars
4/27/08 Jayme Isaacs Good Movie Highly Recommended 5 stars
4/08/08 Brett Closest Thing to a horror masterpeice since well the original Funny Games 5 stars
3/31/08 will i am graet indie thriller 4 stars
3/21/08 Sarko sick, liked it 4 stars
3/16/08 damalc the meanest movie ever 4 stars
3/14/08 stacy berg WE liked it 3 stars
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  14-Mar-2008 (R)
  DVD: 10-Jun-2008



Directed by
  Michael Haneke

Written by
  Michael Haneke

  Naomi Watts
  Tim Roth
  Michael Pitt
  Brady Corbet
  Siobhan Fallon

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