Funny Games Review
Funny Games US opens innocuously enough. Overhead shots track an SUV as it drives along a country road, towing behind it a trailer and nice little sailing boat, all markers of class and status. In voice-over we hear a couple playing a game. One picks an opera, and puts it on the car stereo. The other has to identify the composer and opera. Their son adjudicates. Its all terribly nice and they seem like a happy, wealthy, attractive family, though the unease to come is hinted at as the opera gives way to death metal, while the family continue to smile and chatter on screen. As they drive into the hamlet where their country house is located, they stop to exchange greetings with their neighbours, with whom they are planning to play golf in the morning, and whose daughter their little boy, George Jr (Gearhart), is looking forward to seeing. George (Roth) asks for some help launching the boat.
As they drive away they comment on how oddly their neighbours were behaving, and wonder idly who the two young men were with them.
They get to their beautiful New England house, all tongue and groove Elle decoration style, and while Anna chats on the phone and starts preparing dinner, George and Georgie head down to the dock to launch their boat. Their neighbour comes over to help, bringing with him Paul (Pitt) to help. Georgie runs back to the house to get a knife, and tells Anna that there is someone at the door. It’s Peter (Corbett), who politely introduces himself and explains that he was asked by Eve to come over and borrow some eggs. Anna is welcoming, helpful; gives him the eggs. He clumsily knocks her mobile into the sink and then drops the eggs; Anna gives him some more but he claims that the dog broke them, and asks for more. Anna begins to feel uneasy, especially as Paul appears, asking if he can try a golf club. She asks the boys to leave and appeals to George to back her up. He is embarrassed initially, but then suggests that they go; an altercation ensues, and suddenly George is on the floor with a broken leg and everything changes.
Michael Hanneke originally made Funny Games in his native Austria ten years ago but always felt that it was an American story and has now remade it with an international cast, in English. Otherwise it’s apparently a shot for shot remake of the original. I have to admit I haven’t seen the original so cannot compare them, and so will only comment on this version.
This is a deeply uneasy film to watch. I felt physically sick a lot of the time due to the finely evoked feeling of impending doom. I’m not sure that this could be described as entertaining, but it was undoubtedly powerful, telling, and nasty.
Naomi Watts and Tim Roth do frightened and miserable very well, though I didn’t completely believe in Roth as wealthy opera buff George. Roth looks borderline malnourished a lot of the time, grey and shrunken, with bad dentistry; rich people look corn-fed, as if their faces have been buffed – look at David Cameron. Porridge with cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner and shiny, straight teeth. Pitt and Corbett look much more believably preppy, with their Hitler youth blond hair fringes. This is where the American setting is really effective; would Anna and George be so ready to welcome young black men into their homes, even if they had been introduced. I doubt it very much; they’d have been waiting out on the porch where they belonged. It says a lot about the kind of assumptions that people make; the mention of a name, a reminder that you were introduced – in the cotton wool world that Anna and George inhabit, that means you are ok, and therefore can be invited in.
The second aspect of the film that is deeply unsettling is the way it subverts our genre expectations. When little Georgie makes a break for freedom, I waited for him to run, like Lassie, and get help. He proves to be less use than a well-trained border collie, and is soon recaptured. As part of their cruel cat-and-mouse game, Peter and Paul give the family a chance; naturally they blow it. Haneke enjoys playing games himself, rewinding scenes and having characters break the fourth wall, confronting the audience’s preconceptions head on. There can be no happy ending here.
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