A shot-by-shot U.S. remake by Haneke himself of his earlier work, which might just challenge more viewers to tackle his singular filmography.
Dir. Michael Haneke
2007 | USA/France | Crime/Drama/Thriller | 107 mins | 1.85:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for terror, violence and some language
Cast: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet
Plot: Two psychopathic young men take a family hostage in their cabin.
Awards: Official Selection (Sundance)
International Sales: Celluloid Dreams
Subject Matter: Moderate – Nature of violence
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Viewed: In Theatres
First Published: 22 Mar 2008
Back in 1997, a little-known Austrian filmmaker called Michael Haneke made a film that alerted the world to his talents – Funny Games. Ten years later, Haneke decides to remake his breakthrough film but this time in English to cater to the American people.
It’s a rarity for a director to remake his own films. Even then, credit to Haneke for not making a mess out of the remake. Funny Games U.S is nearly a shot-by-shot replication of the original, from its god-like overhead view of a vehicle moving on a highway in the beginning to the ‘funny games’ that are presented on screen in the later parts.
Roping in a marketable lead star in Naomi Watts, Haneke knows what to do to get people into the theatres in droves. Tim Roth and Devon Gearhart complete the family of three who fall prey to two young adults (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) with sinister (and often sadistic) intentions.
Watts adapts to her role excellently. In fact one scene epitomizes what Watts’ capable of with a strong script – the part when she’s forced to recite a prayer to God to beg for mercy. Her look of ultimate despair and her constraint whimpering during that sequence is arguably the most convincing acting display of the year.
Most of the violence happens off-screen, but that does not diminish its brutal impact. It’s psychologically scary with a couple of highly-suspenseful sequences that mostly involve an eerie cat-and-mouse chase between Pitt and young Gearheart through the dark.
“Why don’t you just kill us?”
“You shouldn’t forget the importance of entertainment.”
Fans of torture porn will find Funny Games U.S an anomaly. There’s little gore, no sex and nudity (though Watts spends most of her screen time in her underwear), and the victims do not triumph eventually.
With Funny Games U.S, Haneke successfully makes a firm statement on viewers’ obsession with sadistic violence and how it is reduced to a lowly form of entertainment.
There’s a bizarre sequence that plays to a ‘Hollywoodized’ script, rewinds, and then frustratingly plays to a different outcome. Moreover, Pitt’s character occasionally breaks the fourth wall by ‘speaking’ to the viewers, telling us that they will torture the family for as long as they can because of the importance of entertainment.
These cinematic techniques are a turn-off for most torture porn lovers. Though it’s the brilliance of such scenes that force these people to feel guilty deriving pleasure from the on-screen sadism.
Funny Games U.S is unlikely to light up the box-office, but its biting commentary on the pitiful state of entertainment should go down well with critics. Ironically, the original Funny Games was produced years before the official birth of ‘torture porn’ movies such as Saw and Hostel.
Not only is Haneke an accomplished filmmaker, he’s a visionary one as well. A film with Handel and heavy metal as its soundtrack hardly entertains; though like Cloverfield, it’s quite an experience.