Funny Games (Warner Independent Pictures, R)

funnygames-header.jpgIt’s being billed by Warner Independent as a thriller, but really, in the interest of honesty, this is a horror movie, plain and simple.

 

 

Around Halloween 2006, a co-worker of mine asked me if he could borrow some horror movies. I obliged, and among them was the original 1997 Austrian version of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. He didn’t watch it right away—it has a dumb title, the cover doesn’t look too promising (on the Fox Lorber DVD release of it, anyway; the one currently on the market from Kino looks a lot cooler), etc. After several weeks he gave it back to me, and told me that he had called in sick one day from work, and since he was stuck at home with nothing to do, he watched it, finally, and it only served to make him sicker. That’s what sort of movie Funny Games is.

That is to say, Funny Games is a true horror movie. It’s being billed by Warner Independent as a thriller, but really, in the interest of honesty, this is a horror movie, plain and simple. (You’ll know this for yourself as soon as the title screen comes on.) The usual horror crowd probably won’t know what to do with it, since there isn’t a masked murderer or vampires or any nonsense like that, but it’s as horror as horror gets. The basic premise is that an affluent family, Ann (Naomi Watts), her husband George (Tim Roth), and their young son Georgie (Devon Gearhart), go to spend a few weeks at their lake house, but the day that they get there, they are met with Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter (Brady Corbet), who wind up psychologically torturing them, and by extension us, for the remainder of the film’s running time. It’s the psychological horror versus killing spree/monster movie horror that will confuse some people, but let me tell you, the psychological horror works.

I was worried, of course, that the American remake would not hold a candle to the original, which is a masterpiece. Look at The Vanishing, which is a similar situation where the foreign original was brilliant and remade in America by the director of the original, but the remake was one of the worst things ever, and you will see my concern. However, Haneke (Cache, The Piano Teacher) has forged a career of being uncompromising, and I had trouble believing he would have anything to do with this version at all if he didn’t have total control. And apparently total control he has—this version is just as good as the original. And when I say "just as good," I mean it quite literally, as he has made a shot-for-shot remake, using the same music, same camera setups, same choreography, same everything. The only real differences are the cast, and the fact that the dialogue is in English this time around. Everything else is as same as you could possibly imagine. Any incidental differences only serve to balance each other out; i.e. where the original had the edge of being fresh and having no one know what would happen in it, the cast in the American version (most notable Watts and Gearhart) are improvements on the already-great originals, so the end result feels about the same.

Exciting as it is that its remake will get more people to see what a truly brilliant film this is, it does leave me in the odd position of trying to decide if I recommend seeing it if you have already seen the original. I’ve seen the 1997 version a couple of times and still quite enjoyed the remake, but let me stress again, they are really exactly the same. So, if you’ve seen it, your guess is as good as mine if the remake is worth your time. If you haven’t seen the original, though, go see it, do it, do it now! See it in the theatre! See it with as big an audience as you can! (Opening night!) You are going to want to see people’s reactions to the events in the film. Trust me. And besides, this is a movie with a lot on its mind—imagine the psychological horror of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining mixed with the social commentary of any of the Romero zombie movies (there’s some nice and credible shtick where Paul and Peter imply that the only reason why they’re torturing the family is to entertain you), make the end result better than the sum of its parts, and you have Funny Games. This one’s going to stick with you for a while. | Pete Timmermann

Visit the official Funny Games website at http://wip.warnerbros.com/funnygames/

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