Funny Games U.S.
Directed by Michael Haneke. Starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Devon Gearhart, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Boyd Gaines, Siobhan Fallon. (2008, R, 107 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., March 14, 2008
There's nothing funny about what happens to the Farber family. Ann (Watts), George (Roth), and their adolescent son, Georgie (Gearhart), while off to their upscale country house on summer vacation, fall prey to a pair of immaculately dressed, disarmingly polite psychopaths (Pitt and Corbet), who proceed to mess with the heads of their victims – and the audience – in a very sick way. The result is, well, horrifying. And it's a remake. It's tempting simply to quote, verbatim, my review of Haneke's original, German version of Funny Games, which blew like a bullet through my skull (and ricocheted just as fast, although with less impact, throughout American theatres) when it was released stateside in 1997 (you can read it here: austinchronicle.com/gyrobase/Calendar/Film?Film=oid%3A138006). But although the games are the same, the arena in which they are played – the world, as viewed through an increasingly skewed, surreal media lens – has changed. If anything, this shiny, new, Americanized take on Haneke's original themes is more effective, more visceral, and far more apparent in its intentions than the original. This "U.S."-tagged doppelgänger is very nearly a shot-for-shot do-over, and as such it raises the question: "Why?" The answer, once you see the new film, is brutally, disquietingly obvious: Both versions of Funny Games comment on the cinematic and, as underscored by Haneke, particularly American conceit of filmed entertainment as substitute for reality and takes it beyond the pale. You can thank the explosion of reality television; the implosion of "real," nonscripted, television news (see Fox News' "fair and balanced" imbalancing act); and our new, best friend the Internet for that. Today's media-saturated "reality" is inching, for the average American, alarmingly close to what Canadian filmmaker/provocateur David Cronenberg predicted with 1983's Videodrome (not to mention 1999's eXistenZ) and which Haneke echoed, from a pre-EU perspective, via Funny Games. As a media-dominated (or decimated, take your pick) society, we've rocketed way past A Face in the Crowd, beyond Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool, and into some creepy, white-hot, prechopped, overshot, stage-managed hyperversion of world and national events. Haneke punctuates his bloody screed with some very freaky exclamatory points – Funny Games is not for the faint of heart or those content with their weekly dose of "Must See TV." It's an (arguably) nonexploitive, nightmarish vision of random violence that goes exactly where you don't want it to go and then goes even further. Watts and Roth are maybe bourgeois archetypes of a sort, but that's part and parcel of Haneke's mission. The utterly soulless performances of Corbet and Pitt will sear themselves into your mind and, with any luck, melt off some of the prefab, mundane media muck from your cerebral cortex in the process. You can take a page from Wes Craven before he went flat and keep repeating, "It's only a movie; it's only a movie; it's only a movie." But is it? I told you we'd be discussing this one later.