20 December 2008 | Buddy-51
deeply disturbing art horror film but definitely not for everyone
Watching "Funny Games" is a bit like coming across a major accident on the highway - you know you should continue driving on past the scene, but you just can't keep yourself from slowing down and gawking at all the wreckage.
The premise of the story does not sound very promising at first, as the idea, or a simple variation of it, has served as the foundation for countless such films in the past: an innocent family of three is held hostage in their home by a couple of sadistic killers who systematically abuse and terrorize their victims for their own twisted pleasure.
So many horror movies are predictable and formulaic that it's a pleasant surprise to come across one that actually makes an effort to break free of its bonds and make its own way in the world. And, indeed, "Funny Games" busts through the horror movie conventions with an almost ruthless determination. In this Americanized version of a film he made in his native Austria in 1997, director Michael Haneke scrupulously avoids obvious camera setups and editing techniques, bypassing virtually every storytelling, visual or audio cliché endemic to the genre. There is no background music, for instance, to cue us into the scary moments, no screeching cats jumping out of the shadows, and no point-of-view shots designed to generate easy suspense. Unlike in most films of this type, the violence here happens in an entirely haphazard and random manner, making it all the more frightening in its unpredictability and plausibility. Haneke refuses to cater to the expectations of his audience, making them face the reality of the nightmare he's showing them rather than giving them what it is they may want to see.
Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet are cringe-worthy and terminally creepy as the smarmy psychopaths who get their jollies out of watching other people suffer, while Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Devon Gearhart engage our full sympathy as the hapless victims who have come up against the blank wall of two twisted minds they are woefully unequipped to even understand, let alone wage battle against.
This is one of the most memorable and artful horror films of recent times, but it is also one of the most unnerving and difficult to watch. The movie gets into your bones, no matter how much your better angels may be telling you to keep it out. It's depressing and disturbing and is certainly not intended for all audiences, but it is a movie that it is very difficult to shake off once you've given yourself over to it.