Trick, tease, mislead, and subvert expectations is what Herr Haneke likes to do
Reviewed By Scott Weinberg
If you're familiar with the films of German writer/director Michael Haneke, then you probably already know that this guy likes to mess with his audience from time to time. Trick, tease, mislead, and subvert expectations is what Herr Haneke likes to do. And now that I've just seen his English-language remake of the 1997 chiller Funny Games, I'd like to add another trick to the filmmaker's repertoire: He just fooled me into watching the same movie twice!
That's not a knock on the remake; it's actually quite the smart, intense and brutal little thriller. It's just that if you've already seen Haneke's original, then you've already seen Haneke's remake. The only things that have changed: the cast, the phone technology, and a different set of female undergarments.
On the surface, Funny Games is a rather straightforward story: A rich couple and their young son arrive at a beautiful lake house, only to meet a pair of strange newcomers: Two affluent blonde youths who seem pretty normal at first ... but gradually transform into a threat of massive proportions. It's a fairly standard "home invasion" tale, but (like I said) that's only the surface.
Beneath the basic story, however, theres lives a whole bunch of interesting stuff. Funny Games is not only a bleak and harrowing horror tale, but it's also Haneke's indictment / deconstruction of, well, bleak and harrowing horror tales. Not only the stories, but the ways in which the viewer expects, demands, and craves certain things from those stories. Without spoiling any of Haneke's tricks, I can say that Funny Games is a rough movie about the act of watching rough movies, and it's a violent story that questions and challenges our reactions to violent stories. Plus, back up on the surface again, it's just a mean, tough, and engrossing tale of terror.
As the terrorized spouses, Naomi Watts and Tim Roth are typically strong -- although, truth be told, the movie belongs to pretty much two actors: Ms. Watts (in one of her best performances) and primary antagonist Michael Pitt. The kid just oozes evil all over the place, and less than fifteen minutes of the film will have you wishing his character all sorts of pain and misery.
"Directors remaking their own films" is certainly nothing new. Hitchcock did it (more than once), and it still happens fairly frequently today. (Examples: Night Watch, The Vanishing, and The Grudge) But in the case of Funny Games, I can't decide if this remake is the result of simple fiscal concerns (as in, they simply wanted to make more money by going "American") or if Haneke is just pulling yet another cinematic trick on us. Either way, the new version of Funny Games is just as good as the old one, only I think it's just a bit scarier because, well, it's easier to be chilled by a flick when you don't have to read all the dialog. So maybe that's why Haneke opted to do a virtually frame-by-frame remake: He wrote a story about violence, and this time he decided to put it in the language that our violent nation would easily understand.