Sadism in Torture Porno Send-Up Ain’t Nothing to Laugh About

    {grate 2.5} It’s usually quite a compliment when someone else wants to
    remake your movie. It means that, somewhere down the line, you made an
    impression on a young filmmaker or hot-shot producer with some cash to blow.
    But if you’re the same director who made the original, don’t you think you
    should leave well enough alone? Austrian director Michael Haneke, renowned for
    art house hits “Cache” and “The Piano Teacher,” doesn’t think so.

    So why remake your own film? The answer lies directly in the
    subject matter of “Funny Games,” as two pristinely dressed white gentlemen
    (Paul, played by Michael Pitt and Peter, played by Brady Corbet, among other
    names they use) play terrible games of brutality with a yuppie family of three.
    Starring the mostly non-American cast of Tim Roth (George Sr.), Naomi Watts
    (Ann) and Devon Gearhart (little Georgie Jr.) the three actors play
    irritatingly futile characters who crawl their way through the film with little
    to no backbone. If two psychotic sadists broke into your lakeside summer cabin
    and started terrorizing your family just for kicks, you might be ill-prepared
    to lay the smack down at first, but the primordial instinct of survival would
    inevitably kick in, right? Not for Ann and George, who manage to get beaten
    down with golf clubs, stabbed with knives and tortured without even the
    slightest hint of a gun holding them hostage. Georgie Jr. actually comes out as
    the ballsiest one of the bunch — and he’s only 12.

    It starts out compellingly enough, with an overhead view of
    the family’s Range Rover cruising merrily along a scenic road to an operatic
    soundtrack, before the serenity is quickly shattered by heavy-metal death
    screams and blood-red lettering: “Funny Games.” It’s chilly and enticing,
    giving you the intended goose bumps of fear for these poor upper-class saps.
    From the instant Peter pops into the kitchen to borrow some eggs from Ann, it’s
    obvious he has no intention of leaving. At the same time, it’s curious that
    even a polite lady would just allow a relative stranger in her house and put up
    with his oddly insistent demands. And who but a pair of serial killers would
    wear white gloves anyway? Haneke’s idyllic setup is perfect, showing the
    grandiose lifestyle that the family takes for granted. His destruction of
    gentility is also delightful as he implicates the audience in Paul’s crimes.
    There’s no greater chilling moment in the on-screen savagery than the moment
    Paul turns his amiable eyes to the camera and talks to the moviegoer.

    The main beef with “Funny Games” is that the plot gets
    unbelievable to the point where it insults your intelligence before shocking
    your sense of morality. If the goal, as Haneke claims, is to get the audience
    to question why they enjoy watching violent movies and shows on TV, then why
    not make the cruelty malicious and genuinely tethered to reality? Even if
    Haneke is truly just mindfucking the audience by breaking fourth-wall barriers,
    it’s a little easier to swallow a theatrical cause if you feel a smidge of
    empathy for characters in the film. Though he’s going for an attack on the
    American midline (sorry suburbia, but that means you), it’s not attractive or
    humble when Haneke admits that he remade the film specifically because he felt
    the original hadn’t reached the intended “English-speaking audiences,” like us
    Americans. It’s also troubling that it comments on American cultural values and
    our obsession with brutal entertainment without taking the majority of
    Americans into account. From the get-go, Watts’ perfect
    blonde hair and floral housedress don’t really hint of home, but rather
    colorless symbolism. She’s certainly not my next-door neighbor.

    Though beautifully shot and edited, something doesn’t sit
    right with the point the director is trying to drive home. Every scene divorces
    itself further from reality in Haneke’s effort to play with the audience’s
    participation in the sadism on screen. Even with big George down for the count
    after a broken leg, there is still the dream that dear ol’ ma could grow a pair
    and fuck some bitches up. But everyone ambles easily along.

    Haneke, if you wanted Americans to watch your movie so
    badly, you should have dubbed your old shit and called it a day. At least you
    could have saved millions of dollars and a lot of folks’ time.

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