Funny Games (1998)
Funny Games (1998)

Genre: Psychological Thriller Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.

Release Date: March 11th, 1998 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Michael Haneke Actors: Ulrich Muhe, Susanne Lothar, Arno Frisch, Frank Giering, Stefan Clapczynski

 


 

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ick, twisted, and incomparably sadistic, Michael Haneke’s “Funny Games” is a viewing experience unlike any witnessed before. Striving to make the audience completely uncomfortable and as much a voyeuristic part of the violence and injustice taking place onscreen as possible, “Funny Games” is also unique, controversial, and thought-provoking. It’s so stimulatingly appalling that it forces the viewer to keep on watching, like some sort of hypnotically cinematic car crash.

Georg (Ulrich Muhe from “The Lives of Others”) and Anna (Susanne Lothar), along with their young son, arrive at their vacation home to do some sailing and golfing with their neighbors. A mysterious duo of young men show up to borrow some eggs, introducing themselves as friends of the neighbors – but from there, things take a sharp turn toward the horrendous. Calling each other Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering), as well as Tom and Jerry, the unpredictable twosome immobilizes Georg and begins playing a series of torturous games on their unsuspecting and understandably petrified victims.

Opening with calming opera music as the family drives to their isolated house, audiences are quickly made aware of the drastically contrasting events about to unfold – as hardcore, death metal music suddenly replaces the peaceful melodies and the cynical title is introduced. The foreshadowing is bold and abrasive, insistent that something isn’t quite right. And Rolfi the dog is the first to loudly alert viewers of the looming dangers. The visitors act awkwardly, although it’s a little difficult to tell at first, since the dialogue is all in German, but when Peter and Paul appear with odd white gloves and aggressive clumsiness in Anna’s house, it becomes certain that calamity awaits.

One of the most terrifying aspects of “Funny Games” is how swiftly – and unlikely – it seems that Paul and Peter so dramatically turn into villains. Neither is initially menacing and both are youthful and polite. “Why are you doing this?” timidly inquires Georg after his leg is shattered with a golf club. “Why not?” reply the boys. Is it all really just a simple misunderstanding? When Anna searches for their missing dog, Paul turns to the camera and winks. It’s at this point that audiences are lured into a self-aware role as voyeurs, making the events that follow just that much more disquieting.

As each mental and physical torture proceeds, viewers are challenged with the notion that not only are they actively watching but they’re also participating in the evils by doing nothing to stop it. And what can they do? The most grotesque violence purposefully takes place offscreen, multiplying curiosities and teasing with the prospect of witnessing or envisioning further horrors. Even when a few minutes of calm enter the living room prison, Peter watches death and destruction on the television set.

Blatantly communicating directly with the audience, asking questions, and peering into the camera (soundly breaking the fourth wall), Paul ups the aggravation with ironic speeches about preserving moral decency and the entertainment value of moribund creativity (concerning torture). What is going on in viewers’ minds as these ghastly events unfold? The usually uninvolved, omniscient place of an audience member is turned upside down. When Paul announces that they have more games to play because the movie has not yet reached a feature-length running time, it’s either gone way too far or just far enough – since many will still be tuned in.

Even though science-fiction actioners would tackle similar themes of the bloodthirsty masses and violence as entertainment (like in “Rollerball” and “The Running Man”), “Funny Games” is a truly singular psychological horror film, packed with plenty of adrenaline-rushing terrors and one-of-a-kind thrills. Even a scene of Peter crying over his supposedly dysfunctional childhood stirs up contention over whether or not he’s owed an ounce of sympathy. Unforgettable and cleverly antagonistic, “Funny Games” completely redefines what it means to watch a movie.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10