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Funny Games (1998)


Arno Frisch

Christoph Bantzer

Doris Kunstmann

Frank Giering

Monika Zallinger

Stefan Clapczynski

Susanne Lothar

Susanne Meneghel

Ulrich Mühe

Wolfgang Glück

Directed by:

Michael Haneke

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 108 minutes

US Certificate: Unrated UK Certificate: 18


I watched the Funny Games double-header all in one day, first the newer U.S. version, then this ten-years-earlier original. Like its American twin, Haneke’s social satire pretending to be a horror movie (or is it the other way around?) comes off as pretentious and preachy, which diminishes the actual good film underneath. Somehow, though, the Austrian original is just a tad better from an audience point of view, maybe because it has a little less blatant animosity towards us.

Starts off, happy little family of mom Anna (Susanne Lothar), dad Georg (Ulrich Mühe), son Schorschi (Stefan Clapczynski) and their dog are settling in for a quiet lakeside vacation. They’ve only just begun to unpack, however, when some creepily polite young men (Arno Frisch and Frank Giering) with menacing white gloves pop up at the door, presumably to borrow eggs. Soon, their much more sinister motives become clear, and the unsuspecting family is forced into a game of torture and survival.

That’s the exact same summary I wrote for Funny Games U.S., except for the names. I thought that was only right, since the former is an exact mirror image of the latter, right down to the shots and most of the dialogue. Even the scenes shown on the television during a particularly gruesome moment are carbon copies of each other. Haneke remade this movie for American viewers because he just didn’t think we could handle subtitles, which could actually be true but is still a little offensive. Both films boast outstanding performances from all their leads, but for my part, the boys in this original give their killers an extra dose of menace—and Giering even makes his slightly slow (but still brutal) Peter seem just a little conflicted. The famous “remote control” scene is less contrived here, as are Paul’s incessant breakings of the fourth wall. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still obnoxious to be reminded every few minutes that, “Hey! You! This is a MOVIE and you kind of LIKE it … stupid peasant,” but maybe it’s the European actors, maybe it’s because we know this one came first, but it just doesn’t feel like we’re being brow-beaten quite as hard here.

If you can get past the winking and smirking, there really is a well-made horror film here—real life is always much scarier to me anyway, and knowing that home invasions like this one have happened—and still do—make it all the more terrifying. When he’s not trying to ostracize us for our apparent bloodlust, Haneke does some neat tricks with his presentation of violence and his build-up of suspense. If you’re up for it, I recommend seeing this one, subtitles and all, because for all its posturing, it really just wants to scare you (actually, it really just wants to do its posturing, but calling it a good horror film is like a counter-slap in its snide little face).

It's Got: Creepiness, Preachiness, Great acting.

It Needs: To lay off the moralizing, not to be remade.

DVD Extras Interview with Michael Haneke (Writer/Director); Audio Commentary (Dr. Hamish Ford, Lecturer in Film Studies at Newcastle University); Trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 3/10


Funny Games U.S., Natural Born Killers, The Strangers


Slightly (and inexplicably) better than its American shot-for-shot remake, Michael Haneke’s original expose of the viewing audience’s appetite for destruction is still too condescending to allow the genuinely frightening movie underneath to shine through.

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