So I couldn’t sleep last night, still job hunting. There is only so many jobs I can look at that I’m not suitable for before I give up. So I turned to the TV for a change of scenery. On Channel 4 last night, late, after midnight, Funny Games was on. The 2007 shot-for-shot remake of Michael Haneke film of the same name some ten years previous, originally an Austrian film. I haven’t seen the original version, but as it’s shot-for-shot I can imagine it’s pretty much the same just in a different language.
The film starts with a long tracking montage shot of a car driving through a picturesque valley/country side road, over the top, you can hear a family talking, mundane chatter. When we are finally invited to see the identities of the voices, we meet Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, with their son. The title sequence literally comes crashing through, the soothing classical music replaced with harsh, metal scream music. The titles appear in block red capitals, the shot remains the same; the family laughing and chatting amongst each other. The juxtaposition of these two elements sets the tone fairly well for Funny Games, which is a nasty, uncomfortable, brutal film. The franticness of the music, the aggression and implied violence, against the calmness and relatable family image being projected.
Without going through an entire plot line, the family holiday takes a turn for the worse when two neighbours come round to borrow some eggs. They are two teenagers, well dressed in golf/tennis attire, all in white. Peter and Paul (wonderfully played by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) are menacing even in their entering moments. It’s never quite stated, but Brady Corbet’s character seems autistic, compared to his friend Michael Pitt, who is overly confident and methodically ballsy. The tone of the devastation we are all about to witness is set in the awkward and uncomfortable way in which the two killers goad and heckle Naomi Watts. Despite her requests to leave her house, they remain, asking questions, staring at her. They eventually attack her husband, Tim Roth, and break his leg, rendering her husband ineffectual. This simple act, so early on in the film in itself is totally sadistic. Traditionally husbands and male protagonists are there to offer protection and aggression in the face of violence.
The two killers make the family participate in cruel games, we know that they are all going to die right from the beginning. All hope for the family is crushed. So what ensues next, is audience participation in witnessing their demise. You are literally forced into taking part by Michael Pitt’s character, who breaks the fourth wall and addresses the audience.
What comes next is harrowing, uncomfortable, brutal and sadistic. Long shots focussed purely on struggle and torment. Ironically nearly all the violence and torture occurs out of shot, you only really see the aftermath. But the single most disturbing moment of the film, is simply when the two killers decide to murder their first victim, the child. The parents have to watch whilst their young son is shot. His blood sprayed up the wall and over a television screen. The exhaustion and tragedy is visible on Naomi Watts and Tim Roth’s faces. Plot and film aside, you can tell that this was a pretty difficult film for them to make.
The violence and brutality is random and sporadic, making it difficult to predict what’s going to happen. The is no real plot, the characters are doomed right from the very beginning, there is no hopes or ‘will they/wont they die?’ it’s simply, you know they will die. The serial killers do not suffer in any way, the victims do not manage to escape or undermine the killers, they have neither the equipment or intelligence to do so. The demise of Naomi Watt’s character is so nonchalant, but still shocking.
The end of the film shows the two killers sailing off, after pushing Naomi Watts into the river to drown, they stop at another house, and Michael Pitt’s character goes in and asks the occupants for eggs, thereby starting the whole process again.
The lack of police or law presence makes the killers actions even more disturbing, even when Tim Roth eventually gets their one and only cell phone working, it seems that he can’t speak to the operator at the receiving end of the 911 call. There is no law, and when there is no law, people can do what they like. It enhances the idea that the killers are doing this for fun. The idea that reality isn’t in play here, is emphasised when Naomi Watt’s manages to grab hold of Micheal Pitt’s shotgun and shoots Brady Corbet’s character, in a almost comical shot where he is propelled backwards against a wall covered in what seems like a bath tub’s worth of blood. Michael Pitt frantically searches for the TV remote and rewinds, literally, to the point before Naomi Watts’ has the chance to grab the gun. The bending of reality, direct address of filmmaking, emphasises the nightmarish qualities of this film.
Funny Games is a thoroughly disturbing film, it’s harrowing, it’s a difficult watch, but employs unusual techniques (fourth wall abuse, direct address and flouting the laws of disbelief) which makes for an interesting art house horror film. It’s certainly not for everyone, it’s slow and it’s gruesome. It’s confrontational, and you somehow finish the film having felt a little violated, being invited to watch a family’s world being ripped apart. By watching it, you almost condone the actions of the killers, wanting to see what happens next in an inevitable story of murder and torture. The scene which is literally rewound, you are reminded of your own capability to turn off, and not watch the death and destruction, whilst simultaneously reminded that you didn’t turn off. It’s interesting, and all the actors are superb, in what must have been an incredibly difficult film to make.
- Film: Watch This: The Funny Games remake is identical to – and as disturbing as – the original (avclub.com)
- 3 must see home invasion movies (videodead.com)
- Obscure Horror Movies (anthonygrandin.com)
- Funny Games (2007) (bigtouristreview.wordpress.com)