Funny Games U.S.
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Michael Haneke
with Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart, Siobhan Fallon, Boyd Gaines, Robert LuPone, Linda Moran
release US 14.Mar.08, UK 4.Apr.08
07/US Tartan 1h51
Funny Games
Polite cruelty: Corbet and Watts

watts roth pitt

london film fest

Funny Games Haneke has said that his 1997 film Funny Games, a deconstruction of perceptions about violence, should have been set in America rather than Austria. So 10 years later he's completed a shot-for-shot remake, which is just as gripping and astonishing. If you've never seen the original.

Anna and George (Watts and Roth) are a well-off middle-class couple heading for their summer lakeside home with their pre-teen son (Gearhart). Just after they arrive, they meet Paul and Peter (Pitt and Corbet), the extremely polite young friends of their neighbour (Gaines). But Paul and Peter start playing sinister little games, which soon slip into full-on kidnapping, threats and much more, as the family's first day on holiday turns unspeakably horrific.

Haneke throws us off balance from the start by cutting from opera to thrash metal on the soundtrack, and we never quite recover. He deliberately subverts our expectations, playfully making us more uncomfortable with each scene. Essentially he's showing us how safe we have made movies; what we usually see is probably much grislier than this but it's also utterly fake. This is true horror.

Watts and Roth are such fine actors that we feel as deeply shaken by this vicious, relentless ordeal as they are. And Gearhart is eerily natural as the horrified but resourceful kid caught up in the situation. These are wrenching, raw performances that stand in stark contrast to the controlled, almost offhanded work of Pitt and Corbet. Paul and Peter are so freakishly reasonable about everything that when they get physically brutal, it literally takes our breath away.

Meanwhile, Haneke matches this attitude with calm, stately camerawork and familiar, safe locations. But something is wrong in every shot, whether it's a neighbour behaving strangely, a dog that won't stop barking or a camera angle that's held just a little too long. Even without showing much violence on screen, this is still one of the most terrifying films ever made. And as it gets increasingly shocking, it actually says a lot about the evaporation of moral structure in society, the dangers of political correctness and the way we have eliminated real horror from our lives through deliberate manipulation. Whether in a slasher film or on the nightly news.

cert 15 themes, violence, language 15.Oct.07 lff

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2007 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall