Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 30 October 2005
Source Fox Lorber VHS
Features: 31 Days of Horror
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Having just seen Caché, I suppose you could say I have Michael Haneke on the brain, but I think he’s one of the more interesting and challenging filmmakers working today, and Funny Games is one of his best (not to mention creepiest, which, if you consider his other movies, is saying a lot). As in The Piano Teacher, Haneke’s employment of violence is sudden; here, the technique is exercised repeatedly, resulting in a horror effort that should be appreciated for its sheer, brutal audacity.
En route to a vacation house for a weekend, an affluent family interchanges CDs of classical music in the car stereo. The game is to guess the composer, and once solved another disc is chosen. Abruptly, the credits ensue — in bold, red, capitalized letters — and a cacophony of drums and guitars replaces the strings heard just prior. The family remains calm, as apparently they continue to enjoy their selection, and in this manner the viewer is confirmed as the direct target of Michael Haneke’s nefarious intentions in Funny Games.
This family will be terrorized by a pair of well-kempt young men, and held hostage in their own home without ransom. Their only negotiating will be in deciding how each other die, and with what weapon. Funny Games preys on the viewer conditioned by horror films, and acknowledges its familiarity with the genre’s conventions. An early scene finds one of the men leading the wife around her house, affirming her proximity to her dog, made a corpse by one of the men. As she nears the body — “Warm… warmer” he says — the man turns and winks into the camera.
But ultimately, the film fails as a purely metaphysical cinematic experiment because Haneke is guilty, in a few key instances, of encouraging sympathy for the victimized family—these moments of sympathy serve to dull the bludgeon. In one instance, the bullies order the wife to remove her clothing. She does so, and her terrified face is framed tightly, depriving the glimpse of her cowering body that would certainly enhance the film’s sadistic utility. After this, the son is eliminated with a shotgun—this occurs off-screen, and is followed by an excruciating ten-minute take that finds the parents immobilized by shock. Perhaps the impartial depiction of violence in these scenes would make the film exploitative, but being that the film is otherwise relentless in its mistreatment of the viewer, it has not capitalized on the potential to supply him with greater horrors.
The torment escalates until one in the family is killed, but the film remains decidedly ascetic and self-aware; it’s the viewer’s prosecution, and for him there will be no relief. As a metaphysical experiment in sadism, Funny Games is endorsed by negative responses. I hated it, and I believe I am probably supposed to.
Conceptually, Funny Games should be lauded, as it succeeds in its intent to bully the viewer. But my mistreatment in watching this film encourages me to cite what I think are some of the more admirable qualities in horror, each of which is absent in this film: comedy, predictability, the sudden blood pressure that amounts when someone’s limb is excised, and the fountain of blood that the wound produces. These traits enable horror as an escapist genre—Funny Games, conversely and although quite horrific, offers no escape.