Funny Games – Review
Two psychopathic young men take a family hostage in their cabin.
It’s day 13 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature and we fell one day short of having a Friday the 13th in October of 2022. With that in mind, we can’t possibly review Friday the 13th.. It just wouldn’t be right. Best believe you know what I will be reviewing for day 13 next year, though. Today, instead, we are going to be taking a look at the 2007 remake of Funny Games.
This is a bit of a controversial one to review. For one, there are a whole bunch of people who hate the movie. For two, I know a lot of purists will rage that I chose to review the American version rather than the Austrian. Both versions have their merits but people tend to prefer the Austrian original. It’s worth remembering, however, that the US version is a shot for shot remakes.
Director Michael Haneke always intended this movie for American audiences. The Austrian version just didn’t get much traction so he remade it. I actually much prefer the cast of the American version which is why I went with this. With that in mind, let’s take a look. As always, feel free to skip the synopsis if you like. I always breakdown the general plot of the movie in a spoiler free way. I find it helpful when reading reviews and like to offer a quick summary to my readers.
We are reviewing a horror movie a day for the entirety of October 2022 leading up to Halloween. These reviews will be shorter and more straight to the point than my standard format. We will feature a range of movies from horror classics to international hits and a few indie darlings. You can check out the entire K-O-Ween feature by clicking right here.
Funny Games (2007) – Synopsis
Funny Games follows couple George, played by Tim Roth, and Annie, played by Naomi Watts, and their son Georgie as they head to their holiday home. Along the way they pass by their neighbour’s house and notice him standing with two young men. George asks for the neighbour to come over shortly to help him carry something. The neighbour agrees but appears to be acting a little strange. George and Annie notice but pass it off as nothing. Shortly after the family arrive the neighbour, Fred, comes over accompanied by a young man called Paul, played by Michael Pitt. Fred is acting strangely and, once he leaves, George and his son comment on this.
Later on, Annie is in the kitchen of the house cutting meat and talking on her mobile phone. Another one of the men that was with the neighbour knocks on the kitchen door. The man introduces himself as Peter. Annie is somewhat unsure how he got in as this is a gated property. Peter, played by Brady Corbet, asks if he can borrow some eggs. Annie says she has a dozen so she can spare a few. On the way out of the door Peter drops the eggs. Annie, somewhat frustrated, offers some more eggs to Peter and advises him to take them in the carton this time to prevent dropping them. Peter, in a seemingly deliberate moment of clumsiness, knocks her phone into the sink. Frustrated, Annie gives him the eggs and tells him to leave.
Let the Games Begin – Synopsis Cont.
Annie, still in the kitchen at this point, suddenly hears the family dog, Lucky, barking. She goes into the hall where she finds Peter back in the house, this time accompanied by Paul. Lucky jumped up at peter and broke the eggs. Annie is rather confused by the pair being in the house and somewhat perturbed. Paul notices a set of golf clubs in the hall. Claiming he is an avid golfer, he asks if he can try one insisting he will hit it out to the bay. Annie agrees and Paul leaves. Back at the boat, George and Georgie hear the dog barking frantically. Seconds later, they hear the sound of the dog yelping and then silence.
Paul returns to the house and thanks Annie for letting him try the club. Peter, still frustrated at the dog making him drop the second set, insists on being given more eggs. Annie refuses and demands that they leave. George, who at this point has made his way to the house to see what the dog was barking at, asks Annie what is wrong. She can’t explain what it is, she just has a bad feeling.
George apologises to the boys but still asks them to leave, as per his wife’s wishes. Paul, being somewhat belligerent and asking to be given the eggs, offends George who slaps Paul across the face. Peter reacts by breaking one of George’s legs with a golf club. Realising that Peter and Paul’s intentions are not good, the family attempt to force them to leave. What they don’t realise, however, is that Peter and Paul are looking for entertainment and the family are in for a night of horrific trauma.
Entertaining, Funny, and Horribly Authentic
Funny Games is not a horror movie in the strictest sense of the word. Indeed, Michael Haneke didn’t intend for it to be a horror movie at all, If anything, it is a commentary on American, and Western, media and the consumer’s desire for blood and gore. It is, however, a pretty horrifying movie just in its brutality alone. The events of the movie are terrifying and entirely possible in real life. The fact that there is, apparently, no motive for the events just makes it all the more horrifying.
Funny Games features a pair of antagonists that are truly menacing in how ruthless they can be. They are here for entertainment and that is, perhaps, one of the most horrific motivations of all. There comes along with this a strange kind of humour. Funny Games will likely make you laugh on a few occasions. The characters toy with the family in a way that will likely make you chuckle and then feel a bit bad for them.
The character’s interactions with each other are another source of humour. They give a multitude of reasons for their actions to the family and the way Paul puts them across is genuinely funny. It feels as though much of the movie is played for laughs and it will get them out of anyone with an appreciation for dark humour. I know my partner and I were laughing all the way through.
It is impossible to reason with someone who just wants to create suffering. That is something that offers Funny Games a very deliberate feeling of hopelessness. Michael Haneke, at numerous points in the movie, likes to build up that hope just a little and then strip it away. If I didn’t know any better, I would say he wants to make the viewer another victim of the duo. It’s a very good way of adding to the horror and leaving the viewer feeling somewhat desperate.
There appears to be a distinct nod to the Leopold and Loeb crime of the century here.. For those who don’t know the case, Nathan Leopold Jr and Richard Loeb were a pair of young men with genius IQs. They believed that their intellect was so superior to the average person’s that they could commit a perfect crime and get away with it completely. With this plan in mind, they kidnapped and murdered Bobby Franks, a 14 year old boy.
Fully believing they would not be caught; the murderers didn’t count on one thing: Nathan Leopold’s big mouth and the chance that he might drop his glasses. The two were brought in for questioning, their alibi was revealed to be a lie, and they were convicted. How it relates to Funny Games, however, is in the motivation for the killing of Bobby Franks. The men were purely thrill seeking and doing it because they thought they could get away with it. There was no real reason, it was just a way for them to have fun. This, in and of itself, is one of the most terrifying motivations for murder and this is exactly what we see in Funny Games.
Haneke Plays With The Viewer
Although Annie and George aren’t a particularly likeable couple, you do feel for them. Their suffering is tremendous and it drags out for some time. It is clear that we are supposed to somewhat dislike the couple, however; at least initially. There is a long lingering shot as their automatic gate closes while they drive through to their enormous lake house in a matt black Range Rover.
They share emotionless conversations with their equally superficial, spoiled, neighbours and are seemingly oblivious to the struggles of the rest of the world. Annie is abrupt, obviously self important, and not particularly welcoming. George is concerned only with his boat and enjoying his vacation. This is the type of family that people love to hate. Privileged and looking firmly down their nose at anyone who is not like them.
I really believe that Michael Haneke was daring the viewer to hate the family. He is banking on the viewer wanting bad things to happen to them. This movie is a commentary on the public’s desire for horror, murder, guts and gore. Considering, also, the general charisma of Paul and the comedy that comes along with the boy’s delivery. It’s hard not to imagine Haneke wanted you to root for the bad guys. He wants the viewer to feel like this is comeuppance for the rich family that have a perfect life and deserve bringing back down to earth. Obviously, from a moral standpoint this is not the right thing to do. It does, however, play into a bigger issue that people have with Funny Games.
A Hugely Divisive Movie
Boy does Funny Games rub some people up the wrong way! There are a few filming techniques that are going to annoy people. There is one scene where a character rewinds the movie to correct something that went wrong. This is going to wind some people up. There is also a lot of fourth wall breaking. Camera work can be a bit unusual at times as well. Michael Haneke had full control over every shot and he really lingers on some of them. Some of these shots can seem pointless and over done but there is usually something there Haneke wants you to notice or realise.
The main reason for some people’s disdain, however, as pointed out above, is that Haneke uses Funny Games as a way to wag his finger at the viewer. “Bad!! You are a bad person and you should feel bad!”. Haneke seemingly casts judgement over the viewer, and the public in general, for their obsession with blood, gore, and violence. The majority of the violence in Funny Games is off camera, depriving the viewer of what they want to see. All you actually see are the reactions of the horrified witnesses to the violence.
Haneke couldn’t give two capfuls of bottled piss about engaging the viewer in the gratuitous violence that they came to see. He only wants to show you the hypocrisy of the media and people in general. Violence in media is normalised to a worrying degree. Seeing violence on the news is normal but women are fired from jobs for not wearing a bra. Blood and guts are fine but a nipple protruding through clothing is apparently terrible. Western media is completely misguided. There is one point in the movie where a character is forced to strip naked. The young son, in this scene, has his face covered. During the violent scenes, the son’s face remains uncovered. This is a clear nod to the widely held western view that nudity is terrible but violence is totally fine.
Haneke goes to great lengths to relate the events of the movie to the real life implications of the news and the media. The motivation for the antagonist’s crimes is senseless. They are doing it for entertainment which is the only thing the viewer cares about. Blood and guts with no consideration to the real life impact on the people connected to the events. There is one scene featuring a character being shot. We don’t see the gunshot but we see the blood drip down a TV that is currently showing a NASCAR race. NASCAR, the event many watch for the crashes and collisions. Obviously this is not a coincidence. It is a judgemental glare at the viewer.
This judgement is something that, frankly, pisses a lot of people off. They want to watch a movie and not be judged. Obviously that is fair enough but the judgemental nature of the film doesn’t really stop it from being enjoyable. It does come across as somewhat pretentious however. Funny Games does, at times, feel like it spends far too much time hotboxing itself under the covers so it can enjoy its own farts.
Self Fulfilling Prophecy
It’s hard to ignore, however, the fact that many people critical of Funny Games are critical for reasons that prove Haneke right. I am sure he knew that was coming and set the movie up, deliberately, in this manner. So many people who hate on Funny Games cite the lack of action, slow pacing, lack of gore, and the somewhat pointless nature of the antagonist’s actions. Of course, there is nothing at all wrong with enjoying violent horror movies. The real issue here is the public’s obsession with cop chases, cartel videos, crime, and killers. Funny Games is not casting judgement on the horror genre and its fans. Funny Games is casting judgement on people’s obsession with media and real life violence.
Heading over to true crime subreddits or flicking through Youtube shows an unnatural fascination with killers and violence. It is very apparent that this fascination is not from a place of care or a desire to understand the impact on victims, either. It is a fascination based solely around indulgence in the grim details and the personality and background of the killer. This is something that has been going on for decades but has expanded to a whole new level nowadays. There is rarely any focus on victims.
True Crime Obsession
So called true crime fans often obsess over the gory details and almost create charismatic anti-heroes out of truly awful people. The true crime YouTube community can be even worse. I really believe some of the true crime youtubers are the lowest of the low when it comes to content creation. So many of them joke casually about a subject that is genuinely horrific. So few of them are sympathetic. I can’t imagine how it feels to lose a relative to murder and then have them summarised by some talentless asshole as a footnote in a 10 minute video designed for likes and revenue.
Not all true crime youtubers are like this but most are. Likewise, this can be an issue with the true crime community as a whole. Many who participate in discussions focusing on true crime have a desire to learn and help people. There is nothing at all wrong with having an interest in true crime as long as you are primarily considering the victims and the social impact. Many, however, are there through obsessions with the perpetrator and a desire for gory details. You telling people that you felt sick reading the autopsy details or looking at the murder scene photos is fooling nobody. These are the people that Haneke is pointing the finger at.
So Why The American Version?
Most fans of Funny Games prefer the Austrian version from 1997. I totally get this and I am surprised that my opinion is different as I am a big fan of European horror. My reasoning is pretty simple, however, the cast. I think the cast of the 2007 remake are fantastic. I have always been a big Tim Roth fan and Naomi Watts is one of my favourite actors. Both are fantastic in Funny Games. Brady Corbet, as Peter, also puts in a decent performance.
Naomi Watts’ acting is so convincing that you almost feel sorry for her. She looks to be in genuine discomfort at times and like she is totally exhausted by the end of the movie. She is amazing as always. Tim Roth is excellent. There’s a scene that is very reminiscent of him being on the floor with a gunshot wound in Reservoir Dogs. It reminds you of what a powerful actor he is. I do, however, find both of their accents slipping at times. It seems that whenever Tim Roth is playing an American character and he has to show pain or struggle, his accent slips and becomes very obviously a British person putting on an American accent. Naomi Watts does the same in a scene or two but is generally much more consistent.
The real star of the show here, however, is Michael Pitt as Paul. He is sinister, funny, creepy, and unnerving. He kind of reminds me of what would have happened if Kevin McCallister from Home Alone went rogue and took his demented torture fetish all the way through to adult life. It’s an excellent performance from an actor that I believe is quite disliked by the people he has worked with. Perhaps playing something of an asshole comes a little too naturally to him? He appears to be struggling at the moment, however. Recent reports are troubling regarding the mental health of Michael Pitt. I hope he is getting the help he needs; he is a fantastic actor when on form.
Is it a Knockout?
Funny Games is an excellent shot for shot remake of the 1997 Austrian original. Bound to divide some viewers due to its somewhat judgemental nature. Funny Games loves to wag its finger at a public that revels in blood and gore. Funny Games is something of a study into the media's obsession with violence and crime.
Slow paced and totally unwilling to engage the viewer in displays of graphic violence, Funny Games prefers to show the viewer the consequences of the violence. The actions of the antagonists are without reason and that may be unsatisfying for many viewers but is also very much by design.
Acting is fantastic with standout performances by both Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. The star of the show is Michael Pitt's sinister and sometimes comical turn as Paul. Funny Games is most definitely not for everyone and some will absolutely hate it. If you can see past its somewhat judgemental tone and bizarre movie making techniques, there is a fantastic movie that is both compelling and horrifying in its themes and presentation.