Funny Games (1997)

"OK"

Funny Games (1997) Review


What happened to the good old fashioned insane killer? Where did he go? Can we get him back? Hell, it can even be a she these days. Come on, people, aren't you a little tired of being told "everything is OK?" Earlier this year, Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects had a family of murdering hillbillies that slashed and mutilated without rhyme or reason: They just liked it and, sometimes, it served a purpose. But we weren't given a real reason, and it made it all the more chilling. Think of the recent films that have been short of classic because of worn-out explanations; it really is heartbreaking (best example: Mark Romanek's One Hour Photo). Truth be told, you have to look at a movie like Michael Haneke's Funny Games and question what you think about cruelty, brutality, and safety, with stories like these running around.

So, everyone needs eggs, regardless of the cholesterol scares in the country. It is this need that brings Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering) to the summer home of a well-to-do couple and their son. Peter, a shy, young man, asks for a few eggs and is given them, but he drops them by accident. This continues to happen until Anna (Susanne Lothar), the wife, gets frustrated and asks him to leave. Then Peter enters, with the homicidal swagger of Frank Sinatra playing Hannibal Lecter. Peter thinks Anna is being rude to his friend and demands more eggs. What happens next? Details shouldn't be discussed further, but Peter and Paul put Anna, her husband Georg (Ulrich Mühe), and their son Georgie (Stefan Clapczynski) through a series of games that range from perverse to blood-curdling.

Michael Haneke is the Todd Solondz of the thriller genre: Without thought, he will bring up the most disturbing and uncomfortable of topics and play them out with a poet's finesse and a keen sense of shock. Funny Games is an experiment, and should be approached as one. Three separate times, Peter breaks the fourth wall to talk to the audience about how they feel about what's happening and how we feel about him. You could interpret this many different ways, but we see that Haneke has made these characters ruthless, and yet we are not allowed to hate them. The acts they inflict on the family that finally leads to the chilling and somewhat anti-climactic ending are so brutal, but the carefree nature of the killers has a strangely subduing effect. Maybe violence against humans is just something they want to do, ingrained in our nature. Haneke, as always, wants to see our reactions to extremes in a manipulated state. The experimental nature of the film hinders it from being as powerful as his later work (The Piano Teacher, Time of the Wolf) but there are some awfully interesting questions being raised under Jürgen Jürges' assured camerawork.

The characters of Paul and Peter aren't given any explanation in social or psychological terms; they are simply sadistic men. They enjoy, sometimes with glee, the tortures they put on the family. Specifically, watch the scene where Paul chases young Georgie when he escapes. There is a breathless cruelty to the way the chase is carried out and how it ends. A thought doesn't pass their faces, this is simply what they do and what they want to do. What makes Haneke's film such a fascinating thing to watch is how he makes us so interested in characters that aren't explained beyond their charms and their sadism, which makes our own opinions grow and leaves the decisions squarely on us.



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