Funny Games

Funny Games (2008). 111 minutes, Warner Brothers Independent Pictures. Directed by Michael Haneke.

Pretentious, sadistic, and capricious film that advertises itself as a horror film, but is in reality a two-hour-long Film School project about the arbitrary rules of Hollywood style movie scripts. Unless you really feel like attending a lecture on didactics, avoid this one at all costs.

Funny Games starts out seeming like one of those mildly interesting remakes of a foreign horror film, like The Ring or The Grudge. It is, in fact, a shot-for-shot remake of the original Austrian film written and directed by the exact same man responsible for this version, Michael Haneke. May God have mercy on his soul.

A wealthy family of three – Husband, Wife, and Adorable Son – show up at their summer vacation house. Two teenage guys, who fit in seamlessly as prep school boys in tennis outfits, imprison the family in their home, then proceed to torture (mentally and then physically) all 3 family members, and finally kill them one by one. I will not identify the actors or character names, since they must have all been blackmailed into doing this film, and I don’t want to add to their obvious pain and embarrassment.

For the first 45 minutes, this seemed like any other annoyingly stupid slasher film. You, the audience, clearly see the danger, whereas the people on screen do not. We see a knife, in closeup, fall out of sight in the family’s boat – and we “know” that will come into play later in the movie. The family has a dog that barks at the psychotic teens. The couple’s son seems precocious and bright.

I watched this “movie” with 2 other people, and at about the 45 minute point, I paused the movie, and suggested we stop and forget it – it seemed obvious to me that this was a cheap stunt horror film, where we would just be screaming at the characters the whole way through, “You idiot!! Grab a knife, it’s right behind you!” or some such. I said let’s just challk up the $4.99 rental fee as lesson learned, stop now, and watch something else instead.

I was outvoted, and we continued watching. And slowly, the film revealed itself for what it really is: a “lesson” in the “games” that movies play with us:

  • “The cute dog won’t get killed”: So the dog is killed, and we watch its lifeless body fall out of the car.
  • “The kid will escape or survive, kids don’t die in movies”: So the Adorable Son is shot in the head with a shotgun as the first character to die, and his dead body lies in the living room for the next 40 minutes on screen.
  • “The wife will escape and get help“: Except the Bad Guys recapture her and then murder her Husband in front of her.
  • “The knife in the boat that was telegraphed at the beginning will save the day at the end”: Except the Bad Guys immediately see the knife and throw it overboard.
  • “The bad guys promised a twelve hour bet that the wife couldn’t outwit them”: Except the Bad Guys, after deciding they are hungry, simply throw the last survivor (the Wife) overboard and kill her, then go get something to eat. The End.

And, in case you still aren’t “getting it”, occasionally one of the Bad Guys will turn directly to the camera, break the Fourth Wall, and say something like “What do you think should happen?” or “Don’t you agree”?

The worst part of all came at about 30 minutes from the end. The Wife lunges for a shotgun on the coffee table and kills one of the Bad Guys. The remaining Bad Guy says “Shit! That’s not what I wanted to happen! Where’s the remote?” The Bad Guy picks up a remote, and then proceeds to rewind the movie – the actual movie you are watching – back before that scene and then start it up again. This time, the Wife doesn’t kill the Bad Guy, and the Bad Guy instead snatches the gun away from her in time, and then kills the Husband anyway.

Isn’t that clever? Get it? See? The whole movie is playing “Funny Games” with your head! Ha ha! See, you rewind it and it doesn’t come out the same way when you press Play! Ha ha! Oh, this screenwriter is so clever I’m just going to shit my pants.

This is the kind of movie that weak-minded professors at lame film schools will slobber over and proclaim post-something-or-another, then say that it cleverly deconstructs the structure of the horror film, blah blah blah. I call it pretentious and sad. If the director wanted to point out the conventions of slasher films, he should have just written an article for Film Comment and called it a day.

A few years ago one of my nephews talked me into watching Saw, which I thoroughly hated. It was the worst example of the kind of “stupid people do stupid, unrealistic things and let killer torment them as a result” genre of film. Funny Games, which I suppose the director intended as some sort of smarmy “answer” to that kind of movie, is ten times worse than that was. I saw another review of Funny Games that called it “the visual definition of the term ‘Artsy Fartsy'”, but that is being far too kind, and giving this film much more credit than it deserves.

I want two hours of my life back. The people who made this should be chained to a classroom desk and forced to listen to an endless series of dry lectures about the Meaning of Film and Deconstruction Theory for all eternity. Let this post serve as a warning: No matter what anyone tells you, do not see Funny Games. If anyone tries to recommend the film to you, run, run, away, as fast as you can.

I’ve never been in favor of burning a film, but I might be persuaded to make an exception in this case.

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