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Funny Games (2007)

Warner Home Video
DVD Released: 6/10/2008

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/7/2008

While you're watching a movie, do you ever think about the film's goals? Probably not, because we usually don't have to. It's typically fairly obvious if a movie is trying to scare us, or make us laugh, or make us cry, etc. Some movies may have multiple goals, but these are still pretty easy to decipher. However, some films remain very inscrutable in this department. The goal isn't quite so clear, and this leaves the viewer unsure of the film's ultimate purpose. This was certainly the sensation that I got from Funny Games.

Funny Games opens with Ann (Naomi Watts), George (Tim Roth), and their son, Georgie (Devon Gearhart), arriving at their summer home. They begin to open the house, and place their boat in the water. Their neighbor Fred (Boyd Gaines), stops by with Paul (Michael Pitt). Paul is a well-mannered young man who appears to be dressed for golf. (Ann and George had already made arrangements to play golf with Fred, and Paul implies that he'll be joining them.) Meanwhile, Ann is preparing dinner when Peter (Brady Corbet), Paul's friend (he is dressed similarly to Paul), comes to the kitchen to borrow some eggs. These seemingly innocent events soon grow menacing as Peter and Paul not only refuse to leave the house, they also assault George. Soon, the two young men are holding the family hostage, and they inform the three vacationers that they won't live to see the next day.

Funny Games comes from German director Michael Haneke and the film is reportedly a shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 film of the same name. (I say "reportedly" because I haven't seen the original.) The obvious question here is, "Why a remake?" Unfortunately, I don't have the answer to that question. (There are no extras on this DVD.) But, I do have some other question, most importantly, "What is the goal of this movie?"

On the surface, Funny Games is a thriller/horror movie. The idea of a pair of criminals who infiltrate a home and terrorize and assault the occupants is certainly not a cheery one, and it's easy to assume that this would be a disturbing and unsettling film. (My wife refused to watch it at night for fear that she wouldn't be able to sleep.) In reality, the movie isn't very scary or unnerving. In fact, it's almost disturbing how not disturbing this movie is.

Haneke's film is so sterile and clinical that it's difficult to be scared by it. The movie makes us think that it's going to be vicious and nasty, but it really never gets there. Instead, while watching Funny Games, I felt as if I was watching someone's nightmare. Everyone speaks in a very slow pace and the words are very deliberate. Ann, George, and Georgie are noticeably scared, but don't really fight back against Paul and Peter. Speaking of which Paul calls "Peter" by many different names during the movie. We can assume that they are using aliases, but the way that the name's change reinforces this dreamlike quality. The coup de grace comes when Paul addresses the audience directly. This breaking of the fourth wall really negates any tension that the film may have produced. (There is actually one more moment at the end which pushes the film into a more experimental mode, but I won't spoil it for you.) If David Lynch made a home invasion movie, it would probably look like this.

Again, was Haneke's goal to make a scary movie? If so, it's a shame that it fails in this regard, because the movie does make some frightening points. The violence and the behavior of Paul and Peter should be the scariest part of the film, but it's not. No, the most disturbing idea here is that the two men can gain access to these nice houses simply because they are well-dressed and well-spoken. This may seem a bit far-fetched, but this could (and has) certainly happen. Haneke is saying that we often place too much value on appearances and people who live in certain cultures never expect anything out of the ordinary to happen to them.

Funny Games may be unsatisfying as a thriller, but it does succeed as a piece of cinema, as Haneke has a very deliberate approach to the film's style. Again, the film is very reminiscent of David Lynch or Takashi Miike's Audition. The movie is filled with very long takes, one of which lasts nearly 10 minutes. During these takes, the camera is often stationary and characters move in and out of frame. There are many scenes where the actor who is speaking is not visible. The film's approach to violence is also interesting. Most of the violence takes place off-screen and we often only hear what is happening. The long takes and the hidden violence do more to create tension than the actual story.

I wish that I could compare Funny Games to the original version of the film, or the recently released The Strangers (which seems to have a similar premise), but as I haven't seen either, I can't. I can say that Funny Games wasn't exactly the brutal and disturbing film that I had expected. Unless you're totally new to horror films, you can probably watch this and not give it a second thought. Fans of European cinema will want to check out the interesting photography and style of the film which juxtaposes the American locales with a slow and deliberate pace.

Funny Games terrorizes DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video. The DVD contains both the full-frame and widescreen versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, as it shows a slight amount of grain throughout. The transfer shows no defects from the source material. The movie has been shot in a very natural style, so the colors look good, but in the nighttime shots, things are a bit dark. I noted some mild video noise in some shots, but otherwise the video is stable. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track offers a nice sound design based on the way that the film was shot. Again, much of the dialogue takes place off-screen and that location is reflected in the front and surround channels. A few violent scenes are punctuated by bass from the subwoofer.

There are no extra features on this DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long