Warner Independent Pictures
Now Showing at: The Esquire Theatre
Review by: Larry Thomas
The old story of ordinary folks being terrorized in their own home by one or more psychopaths has been a staple on the silver screen for many decades. Robert Montgomery and Albert Finney, separated by thirty years of moviemaking style and content, did it in two versions of Night Must Fall. Escaped convict Humphrey Bogart and three accomplices did it to Fredric March and family in 1955’s The Desperate Hours, while Mickey Rourke assumed the Bogart role in the 1990 remake.
In 1997, Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke made Funny Games, an intense, gut-wrenching terror tale about two young men who make murder a game. Despite being thought-provoking and garnering good reviews, it did not get much exposure in this country, even on the art house circuit.
Ten years later Warner Brothers invited Haneke to come to America and remake his film in English, with a bigger budget and cast. He accepted, and has turned out a virtual scene-for-scene remake of the original. This cinematic conceit has been attempted before, most notably Gus Van Sant’s remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho. But it makes a difference to have the original director in charge of the remake.
Two young sociopaths, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet, show up on people’s doorsteps in a remote but affluent lake district in New York state. They weasel their way into homes, and then all hell breaks loose. They are full of lies and self-loathing, and inflict all manner of torture and degradation upon their victims. The targets of their latest “activity” are played by Naomi Watts, giving the best performance of her career, and Tim Roth, in another strong role as good as anything he’s done for directors like Quentin Tarantino. Devon Gearhart is their young son Georgie, and is as good a child actor as has been on screen in a long time.
The film starts pastorally enough, with the lilting strains of Mozart opera music. But when the soundtrack cuts to the cacophonic shrieks of avant-garde composer John Zorn, it’s indicative of the nail-biting experience awaiting you. In the unfolding of the sometimes hard-to-take story, there are a couple of cinematic devices Haneke throws out that will make you think “wait a minute…that doesn’t belong; what’s going on here.” Good question, but the director is playing his own funny game with the audience. These teasers are to tell you that even though you may think you’re watching a movie, the reality of what happens in situations like this is far, far worse. Some scenes even play out as if the two psychopaths represent movie directors who take out their venomous rage on a films’ cast.
All the acts of violence are out of camera range so the actual deeds are not seen, but viewers are seriously aware of the aftermath. It’s far less bloody than your average horror film du jour, but is so intense that you may feel you are actually experiencing what this family is going through.
Funny Games is not for the squeamish, but for those who enjoy…if that’s the appropriate word in this instance… an unusual film with terrific performances and an ending that will leave you shattered, Funny Games will have you talking for weeks afterward… and looking over your shoulder, even when in the comfort and safety of your own home.