Funny Games (1997)

Shocking as "Clockwork Orange", as controversial as "Natural Born Killers".
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Funny Games - Shocking as "Clockwork Orange", as controversial as "Natural Born Killers"

In 1997, before "Home Invasion" movies were bandwagons ready for jumping on and torture movies were more than shallow exercises in pushing boundaries, Michael Haneke wrote, directed and probably scarred suburban Europeans with Funny Games. It is the delicacies of the implied psychological and physical terror of the victims that make the on screen action frightening, but this movie has much more depth than just inspiring sympathy for the suffering family. While home invasion is the theme it is simply a vehicle for quite blatantly questioning the viewer's expectations of a movie. This goes as far as the characters directly interacting with the audience, character created changes to the storyline and an ending that would have been quite uncharacteristic of the late nineties.

At this point it must be noted that this movie was remade in 2007 with nothing but a few big name stars and a lack of subtitles to reach a wider audience of people that have a phobia of subtitles and rely on celebrities and the media to control their lives. The remake is once again directed by Michael Haneke and still manages to provide a punch, but is a pointless remake with nothing added to make it any more than a translation. This review concerns the German language version which is a credit to the original actors as the injection of Tim Roth and Naomi Watts into the remake do nothing but make the story more consumable which defeats the object of the overlying terror.

Anna, Georg and Georg junior are vacationing in their home-from-home when two apparent friends of the neighbours, Peter and Paul, pay a visit. While seeming to have good intentions Peter and Paul are obviously deficient of numerous neural connections. The characters Peter and Paul are wonderfully portrayed by Frank Giering and Arno Frisch. They are complex characters and their psychosis is revealed through subtle yet unconceivable emotional eccentricities rather than senseless violence. While showing no sympathy for the family they are having their games with, they still show human emotion for other areas of their personal life and display a special bond showing an obvious history together. Their tendencies become gradually more violent and they make it clear that their intention is to kill the family yet they remain calm, polite and show no signs of savage or sexual intent (a potential rape scene is set up and then thrown away, once again inspiring the viewer to realise their expectations of a traditional story of this kind). A whole thesis could be written on these two and their friendship, the characters are developed extensively without the need for any back-story or explanations for their actions.

The victims of this heinous crime are equally expertly portrayed and go through the emotions involved with such an event convincingly enough that it is as if you can read their thoughts and truly empathise with their predicament. As the situation becomes more desperate so do their reactions and the emotional rollercoaster that they are experiencing is given enough ups and downs to make the circumstances more terrifying than an hour of blood strewn hysterics ever could.

This subtle assault relies more on psychological terror, isolation created within a fairly populated area, the helplessness of the scenario and the drawn out fear of a situation where the ending has already been revealed. There is little blood or even violence yet it is not necessary as the realism of the mental torture is perfectly apparent.

While the plot does not seem that enthralling and with the majority of the movie taking place in just a few rooms in a house it seems hard to understand why this would keep the viewers attention. Michael Haneke adds another layer of depth to the story by constantly questioning the viewer and their expectations for a film. It is a film that knows it is a film and uses this deliver some unexpected shocks. Peter and Paul seem to be well educated with an opulent upbringing. The victims are rational and collected trying to deal with the situation as it evolves, none of the feel-good factors that are expected in a movie are adhered to and there is no mercy.

Funny Games is a delicate and tension crammed psychological horror, certain areas lose the pace somewhat - notably when the invaders leave the house for the first time - but this slow down is soon recovered. It also manages to challenge expectations while blatantly telling the audience "we are about to challenge your expectations now" which is a directorial feat of bravery and skill. Situations are set up and ignored (the knife on the boat), unexpected executions are executed when least expected and hopes for a happy ending are still smashed when it is obvious that a happy ending isn't going to happen. Under this is savagely dark humour in places where it shouldn't be and flights of fantasy where you are plunged into a world of obvious cinema rather than a true to life state of affairs. Funny Games is a powerful and intelligent movie with no mental punches pulled.
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