Haneke's shot-by-shot remake of his 1997 German art house thriller about two preppy 20-somethings, Paul and Peter (Pitt and Corbet), who descend upon a family, first as annoying guests, then as vicious sadists out for blood. Haneke had always said this movie would work better in America as social commentary, and he's probably right. Roth and Watts turn in harrowing performances as the tortured husband and wife, with Watts also credited as producer. Deliberately shocking and manipulative, which may validate its premise, but still, a nasty little flick.
Does "Funny Games" meet the criteria for "nasty little flick"? Test 1: Half-way through, the viewer looks at watch and realises, "Another hour of this to go." Test 2: The viewer thinks, "I should be pondering the higher meaning of this, instead of concentrating on the action - is it one of those Clockwork Orange things?" So is "Funny Games" more of an American experience than a Central European experience? I don't think so. My guess is that many Americans would feel frustrated: "Why isn't someone kicking #!@%*#?" So what might these "Central European insights" be? Here are 11 obvious answers - you want more than 11? - write your own. #1: It's a metaphor for how the Nazis sneakily trapped Germany's Jews into a Holocaust of gradually escalating horror. #2: It's a metaphor for the trivial grievances and sickening violence of the Baader-Meinhof Gang (Gang? Who? Goto Uri Edel's brilliant semi-documentary, "The Baader Meinhof Complex"). #3: It's an exploration of "values-free" postmodernism (Foucault, etc) - what happens when "common human decency" is deemed to have no meaning? #4: "Pure logic" is by its nature treacherous. There is no such thing as pure logic anyway. #5: Once we've created the most over-privileged generation in history, and they have "everything going for them", where can they go next? #6: Inside each one of us lurks a smiling sadist and/or a cringing victim (inside every Doctor Jekyll a Mr Hyde). #7: It's a movie about movie-making, a sort of ghastly antithesis of Woody Allen's "Stardust Memories". #8: Movies are about manipulation, you fools! (the audience is trapped into a "gotcha" moment, only to have it reversed and replayed). You're "empathising with the characters"? Wrong answer! #9: The meaning of life is that life has no meaning - with the casual and passionless execution of victims. #10: Storytelling is about inserting a single non-realistic element into an otherwise meticulously realistic presentation. #11: Storytelling is really about dragging the (willing?) audience way past the "too long and drawn-out already" point. Phew! All this intellectual pontificating aside, "Funny Games" will be for some viewers an intensely involving experience, with classic horror mechanisms, snappy editing, and a nifty surprise ending. But you may come away with the feeling that Michael Haneke is altogether too talented for his own good.