Funny Games (1997)

Not Rated   |    |  Crime, Drama, Horror


Funny Games (1997) Poster

Two violent young men take a mother, father, and son hostage in their vacation cabin and force them to play sadistic "games" with one another for their own amusement.

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7.6/10
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17 June 2008 | Jonny_Numb
8
| Suffering? You ain't seen nothing yet...
I watched this year's remake of "Funny Games" prior to the original, simply because its sick-with-irony trailer got me extremely curious. Granted, this goes against my usual process of viewing a remake's precursor prior to the remake itself, but I couldn't help myself. By the end, I was astonished by writer-director Michael Haneke's audacity in telling a macabre home-invasion story devoid of Hollywood glamour, humor, and mercy–remake or no, it's still one of the ballsiest exercises in visceral, reality-based horror ever released by a major studio.

So, when I decided to give the original "Funny Games" a spin (mere days after my viewing of American version), I was filled with presupposition toward how much I would appreciate the original (with the twists of Haneke's shot-for-shot remake still mapped out in my mind)–similar to a sadistic "bet" our captors make with their prey, I was wondering if this earlier, German-language version would survive on its own terms. And, while each version is practically identical (save for some subtle nuances in the performances, the slightly varied location design, and–of course–the spoken language), both quite miraculously carry the same visceral, jaw-dropping sucker-punches as the other. Unlike the much-derided American remakes of "The Vanishing" and "Les Diaboliques," Haneke sees no need to let either culture off the hook, especially when each has its own prominent history of violence, on- and off-camera.

Ironically, the references to metalhead couch potatoes Beavis and Butt-Head probably seemed like an incendiary bitch-slap to the passive glamorization of American filmed violence in the 1997 version, but there is an even stronger sense of irony when the MTV-hosted duo are referenced in the remake–on the shores that birthed them, and the cult following of Generation Y-ers that has accumulated in the years since the show's cancellation (a sure sign that our passivity, if anything, is more pronounced now). It's subtle observations like this that give both versions of "Funny Games" an added resonance.

If anything takes some getting used to in the 1997 film, it's the general unfamiliarity of the cast. After seeing a collection of familiar performers run through Haneke's horrifying 2008 experiment, the German cast begins with a studied approach to the performances that eventually loosens into hysteria and desperation that is just as convincing as their remake counterparts. It is truly stunning how Haneke mines the same static framing and intense performances to ends that are equally effective in both films (even knowing the outcome of a protracted long take following a pivotal off-screen event, I found the experience just as emotionally agonizing to witness).

While it may seem hypocritical to "side" with Haneke (at least in the context his film creates), especially when I patronize (and am prone to enjoying) films that frequently downplay the reality of human suffering, the effect in both versions of "Funny Games" is undeniably powerful–these are difficult, ugly, and emotionally draining films crafted with undeniable (and remarkably subtle) purpose. If there's any catharsis to be had from them, it will be in the introspection and assessment of your own attitudes toward violence.

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