Funny Games


Directed by: Michael Haneke
Written by:Michael Haneke
Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart, Boyd Gaines
Released: September 11, 2008
Grade: C+

This is going to be a strange review.  I don’t really want to talk about the contents of the film.  I’d rather have a discussion about how it came to be made.

In 1997, director Michael Haneke made a film called Funny Games.  It was a low-budget German film that generated a great deal of discussion when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival.  It told a sadistic story of two young guys who tortured a family staying at their isolated holiday home.  This was more than just your normal “slasher” film.  Haneke was trying to make a point about how violence is used exploitatively in American cinema.  Not a lot of people saw the movie and it didn’t get a big release in the United States (surprise, surprise).

Since then, Haneke has gone on to make some very good movies.  He peaked in 2005 with a film called Hidden.  I awarded it my highest-grading and in my review, I described it as “two hours of increasing, unrelenting suspense”.  It was the story of a French couple who are sent videotapes of themselves.  Someone is watching them and taping them but they don’t know who.  It’s a film which makes you feel uneasy.  If you haven’t seen it, I strongly urge you to do so.

Now, 10 years after he made Funny Games, Haneke has decided to make it again.  He has brought in a new cast and made it in the English language.  The film is almost identical to the German version.  Haneke hoped that it would open the film up to a wider audience so that more could appreciate the messages contained within.

This reminds me of when director Gus Van Sant remade Psycho back in 1998.  With a few small exceptions, it was a precise remake of the original Alfred Hitchcock film.  I didn’t like it but it was an interesting experiment.  It proved that there are certain intangible elements of a film that can’t be recreated.  Despite the fact it was the same story and it was shot exactly the same way, it was nowhere near as suspenseful as the original Psycho.

The new version of Funny Games takes this concept even further.  Not only is it an exact remake, it’s also been made by the same director!  I have to ask myself, how could Michael Haneke do this?  Surely a director would have so many great ideas for new movies.  Why would he want to go back and waste his time making a mirror-image of an earlier film?  I’m perplexed.

The irony is that this new film has been a financial failure.  It was made for an estimated $15m and took in just $1.3m at the U.S. box-office.  People didn’t want to see the first movie and it should come as no surprise that they didn’t want to see this one either.  Is Haneke a misunderstood genius or a foolish filmmaker?  It’s a debate that I won’t continue in this forum.

As for the movie that I’m here to review, I don’t have a lot of compliments.  I like what he’s trying to do and the way that he teases the audience but not always showing them what is happening.  It helps build the suspense.  In contrast, the plot is farcical.   The two bad guys (played here by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbett) and are also over-the-top with their blasé mannerisms.  It’s almost laughable.

Are you one of the few who are going to take the time to see this film when it is release?  Or are you like the majority and simply won’t care?