Funny Games (1997)

Funny Games is an Austrian horror film from Michael Haneke of Amour fame, a movie I mention only to include this bizarre video.

Part endurance horror and part postmodern finger-wagging exercise, this self-conscious home invasion movie sees two young men torture a family while turning to wink at the camera as if to accuse the audience of complicity; that our appetite for violent films is directly causing these innocent people to suffer.

A challenging film in every sense, Funny Games is psychologically gruelling and intellectually interesting up to a point. Surely it would be more rewarding to explore why we like some violent films, some being the operative word. You wouldn’t like this one unless you happen to enjoy being told off, in which case what’s wrong with you?! You’re welcome.

So taken was Haneke with this feature that he remade it shot-for-shot in English a decade later with Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, so that Americans could be chastised too.

Haneke’s execution is expertly controlled, keeping all the violence off-screen but carving a horrific atmosphere that makes Hostel look like Hotel for Dogs. The performances are chillingly believable, made all the more terrifying by the sadistic ringleader (Arno Frisch) resembling a young George Osborne.

It’s also totally void of subtext, as its message is condescendingly and explicitly stated by the fourth-wall-breaking characters. When Wes Craven used these ideas 25 years earlier in The Last House on the Left, they were woven into the action without being judgemental.

This horror film about how horrible horror films are feels self-defeating; once you know the premise, nothing is gained by attending the lecture. I mean seeing the picture. In a curious contradiction, Haneke has designed a film that’s not to be liked. And by that measure he will be pleased. Or as we say in Judaism: Happy Haneke.

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