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Movies Review

Funny Games

By
Funny Games
Director: Michael Haneke
Screenwriter: Michael Haneke
Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Devon Gearheat
Running time: 111 mins
Certificate: 18

Michael Haneke's faithful remake of his acclaimed 1997 German film boasts a stellar cast, oozes with tension and delights in thoroughly riling anyone who dares to watch it. Funny Games is bold, brutal and bound to spark plenty of post-viewing debate.

The story is a riff on the familiar 'it could happen to you' type narrative, although more in the extreme torture than lottery-winning sense of the phrase, where an average family is taken hostage by two deranged young men who derive great pleasure from toying with the victims - and us. Housewife Anna (Watts), her husband George (Roth) and their little boy Georgie (Gearhart) all endure immense emotional and physical anguish, with the prospect of survival very bleak indeed - especially as their captors place a bet that they won't be alive in twelve hours.

The startling confrontation between film and audience is symbolised in the opening scene. The young family cruise down a country road blissfully listening to classical music in the car, only for the film's title to aggressively turn up in big, bold red letters amidst a cacophony of loud, tuneless heavy metal music. First blood has been drawn, and it's our own.

After this violation of our senses, any generic and filmic expectations we have are subsequently subverted. A main character is killed in the most blasé, unsatisfying, out-of-shot fashion and makes us question why we have this inner yearning and bloodlust for the graphic violence to be seen. In addition, one of the evil captors even addresses the camera and mocks us for our desire to have a plausible ending - and even rewinds events in the film to lead us down a very unconventional path instead. This strategy is refreshingly detached from the usual 'plot by numbers' style thriller, by deriving us of certain visceral experiences (or perhaps 'pleasures'?) we are accustomed to.

Haneke's directorial style, full of still, lingering shots from a suitably objective lens, is a perfect match for the material and performances. An air of unsettling yet calm menace is present throughout and underlined by the lack of diegetic music to artificially enhance our perceptions. Certain moments are eerily reminiscent of the tone Stanley Kubrick managed to generate during the Hal-related scenes in 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, other moments are intentionally as frustrating as your average Martin Lawrence movie - a form of violation that would gain instant confessions from any Guantanamo Bay prisoners.

Naomi Watts is superb as she's put through the emotional mill in a similar manner to her Mullholland Drive performance, while Tim Roth plays against type as a surprisingly impotent man with an inability to play the hero. Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet are suitably sinister as the upper class torturers with a fetish for eggs.

As a cinematic experience, Funny Games is recommended for its sheer audacity, although be prepared to walk out feeling ultimately unsatisfied. In many ways, the film is a deliberate victim of its own game. The real strength of the movie should then become apparent when one questions exactly what was missing in the film that would have enhanced the experience - namely glorious set-piece deaths, humour and lashings of gore. So, in effect, how different is the average horror fan to the type of person who stumbles upon the aftermath of a severe car accident and creeps around like a vulture trying to gain a good look at the mutilation within?

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