Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Funny Games

I can't in good conscience recommend that anyone see this movie...but I'm kind of glad I did. Quick plot recap: a family arrives at their summer home and are visited by two pleasant, well-mannered young men asking to borrow some eggs. Soon, the visit becomes uncomfortable, and then downright terrifying as the visitors take the family hostage and play a series of sadistic games with them.

These two polite psychos are among the scariest villains I've seen on screen, never losing their cool as they humiliate and torture their victims. Every sick act of violence and sadism is treated so casually, so cavalierly, that the assailants and their prey seem to be in two different films altogether. At one point, one of the guys goes to get a snack as the other plays a game to determine which family member he'll kill next. They act alternately wounded and bemused when the family refuses to cooperate with their "games" or tries to escape. They even break the fourth wall to address the audience and invite them to participate in the action.

I'm still not entirely sure what I think about the movie. On one hand, it was extremely well done -- the acting was fantastic, and Haneke ratcheted up the tension and horror so expertly that I found myself holding my breath for what felt like half the movie. It's not at all predictable; in fact, it twists every horror-movie convention into something unexpected. There's almost no music, which makes the experience of watching the film even more horrifying. Oh, and all the violence takes place off screen, so the screams and other reactions of the characters are your only indication of what's happening.

On the other hand, what exactly is the point? Simply to provoke? Haneke says that he's mocking American cinema's lust for violence, how we're so desensitized to brutality on film that we don't even flinch at the vilest depictions of torture, humiliation, and death. We're a voyeuristic society; I'll accept that. But I didn't leave this film feeling like I'd learned a valuable moral lesson. I just felt scared and sick. It didn't open my eyes to anything revelatory about the nature of entertainment. I'll still see -- and enjoy -- violent movies. I like to be scared; it's part of human nature to seek out taboos. I know how to differentiate between fiction and reality. I appreciate that Haneke is making me think about these things, but ultimately, Funny Games, for me, was just a really unsettling, disturbing horror movie.

I see what Haneke's trying to say, though -- look at all the crime procedurals and forensic shows on TV today, not to mention the glut of "torture porn" and other violent films cluttering theaters. They're predictable; we know how they're going to end for the most part. We feel safe watching these stories because we've come to expect a certain payoff (bad guys lose, good guys win) without having to correlate what we're seeing to real life. It's escapism, and it helps us ignore the real tragedies that are happening every day, where the good guys don't always win. Haneke says his intent is to manipulate, to make the audience aware that they are being manipulated. That's why he has his characters address the camera, why he actually rewinds the film at one point to change what you've just seen, why he flouts the conventions of horror movies by (spoiler!) killing the dog and the kid first. He wants to unsettle, and he most definitely succeeds.

I'm pretty sure that I ended up liking the film, though I didn't enjoy it at all. I think Haneke does succeed somewhat in delivering a slap in the face; it made me think, which is more than most horror movies can claim. I just don't think that the film has as much significance as he'd like to believe.

1 comment:

Louisiana Belle said...

Sounds like a unique twist to the horror movie genre. Your review was so intriguing, it almost made me want to see it, but it would probably be too disturbing for me.