Funny Games (1997)
Starring: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Muhe, and Arno Frisch
Directed and Written By: Michael Haneke
If there’s one genre of movies I cannot stand it would be the “torture porn” style. These are also classified as “splatter movies,” meaning they attempt to make gore for gore’s sake into an art form. Movies like Hostel and Saw are all very profitable, being able to be made for small amount of money (in movie terms) only rake in a lot at the boxoffice. However, I’ve always felt that these were examples of lazy film making full of arrogance by the director saying, “look how much I can shock you!” Don’t get me wrong, I like my share of blood on screen (see my love for Kick-Ass and Kill Bill), but these were always cartoon-like and never meant to be taken seriously. Michael Haneke’s Funny Games thankfully remembers the best rule of horror: what you can show me is never as bad as what I can imagine.
Funny Games is about an average wealthy family that never tends to do well in horror movies. There’s the father Georg (Muhe), the mother Anna (Lothar), and their son Georgie (Stefan Clapczynski). Along with their dog, the family is off to their vacation house preparing for a boat trip. While Georg and Georgie are working on the boat, two young men named Peter (Frank Giering) and Paul (Frisch) enter the house under the guise of borrowing eggs. Needless to say, they wouldn’t be leaving any time soon. Together, they terrorize the family, often while being very polite (which makes it that much worst). Does the family make it out in the end? What do you think?
To call Funny Games a splatter movie would be doing it a great disservice. If nothing else it’s a commentary over violence and how we the audience view it. Okay, so I cheated, Haneke came out and said that’s what it’s about, but it sounded good, right? Despite the premise, there’s actually not a lot of blood in the movie. Everything (nudity) included happens offscreen. Again, what I can imagine is worst than what you can show me. In fact, the only real startle in the movie comes at the very beginning with the family driving to the house listening to classical music when suddenly some German death metal blasts as the opening credits begin. You will jump.
The family themselves is nothing special at all. Georg is a rather weak man who’s his wife tends to boss around a bit. Nor does he quite have the courage to throw Peter and Paul out when Anna asks him to (not that he would have been able to anyway). Anna is rather self involved, but is a kind and tough woman. Leave it to Georgie to know that something isn’t right. Their in-laws are next door and when the family first arrives, they see Peter and Paul with them. Georgie is already suspicious of the situations as his cousin is nowhere to be seen. The child is often the wisest one in films and it’s no different here. Georgie is also the bravest of the three, who does put up a fight and flees when the opportunity arises. The key here is that this is a completely normal family with slight flaws that we all have…and we’re watching the movie to see them die.
Which leads us to the killers. Peter is a slightly chubby and dense young man, who is completely unremarkable besides his willingness to inflect harm. No, the star is Paul by far. He’s the brains (who always chastises Peter over his lack of intelligence and his weight) and definitely the alpha dog. The creepiness of the two is just how emotionally detached to the events around them they are. We don’t know who they are (they also call themselves “Tom and Jerry” and “Beavis and Butthead”) or what their story is. Much like The Joker in The Dark Knight, we’re given four possibilities to Peter’s past yet it’s more likely than none of them are actually true. That’s the point. We don’t need to know the back story, just that they are there to kill the family simply because they can.
What’s more is that Paul breaks the fourth wall quite often during the course of the movie. This is when a character in a movie will acknowledge that the audience is there either with a look to the camera of verbally. Paul does both and more. There’s one point where he makes a bet with the family. He bets them that they’ll be “kaput” by 9 am the next morning while he suggests to them that they bet him and Peter that they will be. He turns toward the camera and mocks us; he knows we’re rooting for the family and that we think they’ll be alive in the end. He’s not just making the bet with the family, but with the audience as well. We soon see that it isn’t a fair bet as he controls that world rather unfairly in a scene that has to be seen to believed.
Bottom Line: Funny Games is a film that forces us to look at ourselves in the figurative mirror. It features killers that act as coolly and detached to the mayhem and violence as we do while watching it unfold. This is the most disturbing aspect of the entire experiment. Paul lets us know the family is going to die, we know they’re going to die, yet we stick around and watch it happen. Yet we never see a thing nor did I want to. Funny Games is incredibly well made, but I never want to see it again. Perhaps that’s the point.
I really wasn’t expecting to give this movie high marks, but I was definitely wrong in my assumption. There’s a reason why this movie is mentioned in the “1001 Movies You Must See” book, I guess