Friday, October 15, 2010

2010 Geek Fright Fest: Funny Games

Funny Games (2008)
Rated R (for violence and language)

Directed by Michael Haneke

Naomi Watts
Tim Roth
Brady Corbet
Michael Pitt

This film is a shot-for-shot remake of the Austrian film of the same name, also written and directed by Michael Haneke. It received mixed reviews among American critics, but the original Austrian version was well-received in Europe.

Ann and George Farber (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) are a typical upper class couple. Along with their son, Georgie, they plan to stay in their posh lake house for a week. As they pass their neighbors' equally beautiful home, Ann calls out to them, reminding them about a planned golf game for the following day. The neighbor seems distant and distracted, and the Farbers debate about the cause, chalking it up to visiting relatives after noticing two men standing with Fred, the husband. As George and Georgie launch their boat outside, Ann begins preparing a steak dinner. She is interrupted when the two young men from their neighbors' home, Peter and Paul (Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt), arrive and ask for strange favors. Hoping to get rid of them, she indulges their requests until George asks them to leave. Suddenly, the men become violent and corral the family in the living room, holding them at gun point and forcing them to participate in sadistic games. If the family is still alive by 9:00 the next morning, the men will let them go.


It's hard to say I "like" this film. The story is very disturbing, the majority of the characters are pretty unlikeable, and watching what the family has to go through over the course of the film is very uncomfortable. On the other hand, this flick defies all major American movie-making conventions, which makes it fascinating to watch. Pitt's character breaks the fourth wall several times throughout the film, the antagonists' motives are never explained, and none of the sympathetic characters survive. The two horror film taboos - violence against animals and children - are broken, and the violent murderers get away scot free, continuing on to the next family.


Specific sequences in this flick were nothing short of amazing. The opening, for instance, sets up the rest of the movie beautifully. The audience knows immediately that they are in for something completely unusual:

Ultimately, though, this film is about the performances. Watts plays the rich, WASPy wife to the hilt, and is equally good in her terrified scenes. Pitt is both ruthless and smarmy - the epitome of the banal kind of evil that can only exist in suburbia. I feel like Roth (one of my favorite actors) was a bit underused in this role. Corbet was the biggest surprise. A relative unknown, he blew me away with his soft-spoken but menacing performance. He was almost more scary than Pitt, who was far more aggressive.

Fright Rating: 2 1/2 gasps out of a possible five

Most of the violence happens off-screen, so the bone-chilling tension is the scariest part of this film. The fear is psychological, but will effect the easily rattled. I recommend this film for film buffs and people looking for something they've never seen before, but it may not be for casual viewers.

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