To say that Michael Haneke’s horror/thriller “Funny Games” is unusual is to understate matters. There are very few cuts, and the film has the self-aware nature of movies like “Scream,” although it lacks the jokey tone of Wes Craven’s hit.
Anna (Naoimi Watts), George (Tim Roth), and their son, Georgie (Devon Gearhart) are on their way to a vacation at their summer home. Shortly thereafter, two young men arrive at their door, asking for some eggs. Of course, that’s not the real reason why they’re there. After attacking George with a golf club, they force the family members to play a series of sadistic games. They bet that in 12 hours, all three of them will be dead.
It is so fascinating when a truly inventive director uses the medium to make his point. Most films are just a series of images shown in different angles. Not here. Haneke uses film, and the creative opportunities it allows to make a statement on how we view violence. Haneke knows how violent movies can get, but by showing them in specific ways, he strips them of their enjoyment factor and shows us how terrible violence really is. He also knows how to rachet up the tension.
The acting is terrific. Naomi Watts makes for an extremely sympathetic heroine, and she is the perfect match for the two psychos. As Paul, Michael Pitt is a terrifying creature. He is probably one of the most frightening villains ever to grace the screen, and it’s because he plays the character absolutely straight. Paul is a total sadist; the more pain he causes, the better. What’s especially chilling about him is that he is completely disassociated from reality. He conducts his sadistic games with the glee that an average teenager watches a James Bond movie. It’s a sobering statement on reality. His co-hort, Brady Corbet, is terrible as Peter. Corbet was good in “Thirteen,” but his performance here is totally hammy. Tim Roth provides solid support, and Devon Gearhart is good as his son.
This is a good film, but not a pleasant one. There is a level of enjoyment in movies like “Scream,” “Fear,” or “Halloween.” “Funny Games” is just as scary, but there is no “entertainment” value in it. As good as Haneke’s work is, sometimes he goes overboard. Presenting the film in long takes rachets up the tension with no release, but sometimes they go on for so long that they lose the effect (in terms of suspense and otherwise). Additionally, some of the things that he does are too cute, and as a result, they call attention to themselves in a bad way.
Still, this is a good and inventive thriller.