Rachel Breiwick picks at Michael Haneke’s intentionally uncomfortable, intentionally frustrating remake of his home invasion thriller Funny Games.
No joke: I think Funny Games was the first “scary” movie I watched.
In 2008, I was about as anti-establishment as you could get. Having recently emerged from an emo/goth phase into an even more misguided hippie moment, I knew that anything that came buttoned up in head-to-toe Connecticut casual was the enemy—of that much I was sure.
Back then, I had just devoured the short story The Most Dangerous Game, and someone recommended I see the newly remade Funny Games, an American remake from the Austrian original, both directed by Michael Haneke. I was new to the genre, and didn’t know if I would like it. But the second I saw those Aryan frat boys appear at the door, I was terrified and hooked.
The plot seems clear enough: Family goes to their lake house, when two strangers appear at their door asking to borrow eggs. They then crack your husband’s leg with a golf club, and make a bet that all of you will be dead by the next morning. The entire movie takes place within these hours.
I remember the film as being something groundbreaking. Like I said, I was new to the genre, and I couldn’t believe the suspense. The idea of a neighbor upending your holiday weekend just by asking for eggs felt cruel and far too possible. I loved how you knew you couldn’t trust the white-collar trust-fundies at your door—it matched what I believed to be true. I loved the villains and their strange, latently gay relationship; the clear leader Paul (Michael Pitt), a Nazi Youth propaganda dream, and his panting, too-eager-to-please lackey Peter (Brady Corbet). Their dynamic was fun to watch. When Paul is upset with his sidekick, he’ll call the blushing Peter “Tubby,” instead of his name.
When I revisited the film last week, I noticed that there were a number of things I missed. Namely, the movie breaks the Fourth Wall right away—about fifteen minutes in. During one of the first games they play, a hot versus cold-style game to find the family’s bludgeoned Labrador, Paul looks into the camera, and, playfully exasperated, rolls his eyes, as if we, the viewers, are in on it. As if we knew this would happen and find this all humorous. Personally, it made me feel culpable. The nod asks us if we’re spectators or worse; are the killers answering to us?
The film reminded me of our culture of train-wreck voyeurism. We can’t look away, and Funny Games knows that—and mocks us. This film specializes in painfully long shots with little-to-no camera movement, grasping that it’s not that they refuse to let you look away—they’re suggesting that you don’t want to.
Naomi Watts is in perfect form, as always, and in a seriously demanding physical role, as well. You get all of the desperation of Mullholland Drive Watts, but with the unflinching sincerity of her in The Painted Veil. You came for the sadism, but you’ll stay for Watts’ acting.
The plot holds up okay, but it’s really the cinematic production that carries the film. It’s just a beautiful piece of art. Additionally, the music is used to further disrupt you: at once soaring vibratos are interrupted by chaotic, slap-in-your-face metal. It’s jarring and effective.
Here’s where I felt wronged: At one point, Naomi’s character shoots the lackey with a shotgun, to which Paul cries, “Where’s the remote? Where’s the remote?” and reverses the last five minutes on a remote control that controls time, like we’re in Click. Who decided that this was part of the movie’s universe? This had not been established! It’s upsetting and it’s one of the worst parts in the film—you realize that not only do you not have control, the players aren’t playing fair. “We want to show our audience what we can do,” they say into the camera. “Do you think it’s enough?”
I slipped into a depression the last bit of the movie. I don’t mind when people die fairly, but there was nothing fair about this, and the concept of a time-remote is never revisited. Men in crisp golf clothes have never made me angrier.
So does it hold up a decade letter? Eh, there are other thrillers I can point to that excel on more levels, but Funny Games defends its place. It’s not a perfect film—hell, it’s not even a better remake—but it’s well-made and Naomi is just mesmerizing. While the plot is solid, it’s really the acting that makes this film. I recommend a watch, because it’s worthwhile to put yourself in the position of “What would I do?” What would I do if two entitled college-aged dicks came into my house asking for eggs and wouldn’t leave? Two blondes who’d probably wear MAGA hats, sailing off in New England waters after dumping overboard bound and gagged Naomi Watts, laughing about how they’re hungry. Give it a watch if you want to channel some hate.