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  • Movie: Funny Games
  • Reviewed Format: Theatrical Release
  • Rating: R
  • Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart
  • Written By: Michael Haneke, based on his 1997 screenplay
  • Directed By: Michael Haneke
  • Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures


A deconstructionist horror thriller with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, intelligent but not entertaining.

By Abbie Bernstein     March 14, 2008

Naomi Watts in FUNNY GAMES(2008).
© Warner Independent Pictures

There are horror movies that are inadvertently hypocritical, indulging in prurience while shaking a finger at the audience. However, Funny Games is in something of a class by itself in how it treats the genre. Director/writer Michael Haneke has remade his 1997 Austrian/French-made film of the same name with an American setting and ostensibly American characters, albeit Naomi Watts is actually Australian and Tim Roth is English. It’s possible something has been lost in translation and even more possible that a message that might have seemed thoughtful a decade ago has transformed over time. It’s not that Haneke doesn’t have something on his mind and it’s not that he’s a bad filmmaker, it’s just that audience members who think they’re in for one type of experience will feel frustrated, while those who catch on early are likely to be irritated. It’s no fun being told you’re having a discussion and then not getting to have any input.

Watts and Roth, along with Devon Gearhart as their young son, play a happy family taking a vacation at their house by the lake. Two young men, Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet) talk their way onto the premises and proceed to terrorize and torture the group.

This is not Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes or even Hostel. While the young faux-polite men are both psychopathic and sociopathic, they’re also extremely polite. Moreover, where most films in this genre show a great deal of violence, nearly all blows, cuts and gunshots occur out of frame; we see blood spatter and legs, but very seldom anything more.

This seems to be part of filmmaker Haneke’s point – he’s going to make us examine what we want and expect out of this type of film. This comes complete with having Pitt’s character make asides to the audience and talking about story structure. Pitt and Corbet make an excellent pair of truly hateful preppies – you wind up wishing the beast from Cloverfield would put in an appearance. Watts, Roth and Gearhart all suffer convincingly, though there are some scenes where we wonder whether the characters are perhaps a little too conveniently non-inventive. Sure, we’d all panic in similar circumstances, but these people take it to extremes.

Certainly Funny Games doesn’t unfold the way other films with its basic premise do, but this is where it gets dicey. There’s a reason most people don’t make movies like this, and it’s not all about money. Doing something different entirely for the sake of doing something different obviously gets praise for originality, but there should be a destination in mind. The overall effect for those of us who have asked and answered questions about the particular appeal of this genre to our own satisfaction is of being sternly talked down to by someone who doesn’t actually feel any empathy for those who love what he’s critiquing. For those who haven’t felt any introspection about film-going choices, here’s an invitation to do some thinking, but the answers may not be those Haneke appears to suppose are correct.

In the end, Funny Games is well-made, intelligent and different. It just doesn’t elicit any emotions most people hope to experience at the movies.


Showing items 1 - 8 of 8
laforcer69@yahoo.com_home 3/13/2008 10:48:26 PM
A lot of words being said up there but no mention of what the damn story is about, give us a synopsis for crying out loud...
highdough 3/13/2008 11:16:22 PM
I have to say this looks like a totally unappealing film. I've seen the trailer a few times and I don't know why anyone would want to see a film about a family who gets held against their will and tortured. And mlaforcer, the reviewer does in fact give a synopsis of the film. It's the second paragraph. Not too hard to find.
laforcer69@yahoo.com_home 3/14/2008 12:10:28 AM
indeed it is, and I still don't give a rat's ass...
MrJawbreakingEquilibrium 3/14/2008 12:13:34 AM
I've seen the original for which this is a shot for shot remake. And it's good as hell. Like the article said most of the violence is off screen, though it still felt brutal. It was kind of realistic in a way because who hasn't heard of crap people do in real life. I mean I'm sure things worse than this has happened. Hell, I'll use the plot of The Girl Next Door and An American Crime both based off the same true events, if someone made that and told you it was fiction you would probably say, "Like that would ever happen". Also, the film is a commentary on the films from the genre itself is a part of and the fans of said does the save by the bell thing and actually talks to you. It's funny and good and sometimes you find a dark, scary point that feels a bit like the truth inside of you. Man, I don't think I'm being clear about what I'm trying to say...I'm kind of smokin' and my brains a cloud.
ultrazilla2000 3/14/2008 3:29:58 AM
Apparently I'm in the same boat as mlaforcer...because this review felt more like a college thesis than a movie review.
highdough 3/14/2008 9:53:06 AM
Considering most movie reviews spend half their time giving away plot details, I would consider it a compliment that it's not like other movie reviews. I generally don't read entire reviews before seeing a movie because most reviewers seem to mistake telling us what happens with reviewing.
rudewordsmith 3/14/2008 7:40:10 PM
I love the orginal flick, which I bought not too long ago at a Virgin Megastore for what would have been too much money for most other flicks. At any rate... I dig how the movie is a commentary on how kids (even if they're rich, polite and "well bred") will sometimes turn to horrible acts of violence on account of being bored. "What do you want to do?" "Wanna go around hurting people?" "Sounds good!" This happens all too often. Hell, read a paper and chances are you'll find a story about some kid killing some one and his answer will be "I dunno why I did it". Yet, at the same time, it points out that we as an audience might not be much better. "You bored?" "Yeah..." "Wanna watch a movie where people get tortured and killed?!" "HELL YEAH!" Any way, I've rambled much too long. But I'm bored. Beats killin' families I guess.
kaybar 3/16/2008 10:41:05 PM
wow, I can't believe Michael Haneke would do a film like this. I haven't heard anything about Funny Games, but Cache, Haneke's 2005 Golden Palm-winning thriller, was really quite good at doing all the things this review says Funny Games lacked. But Cache did have one wicked on-screen suicide, and some very creepy imagery.


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