Have we grown this cynical? Is the world in 2008 so devoid of intellectual pursuits that the story of a couple of slap happy serial killers demands attention as revisionist art? That's the bottom line you have to believe if you read the reviews of Michael Haneke
's 1997 effort Funny Games. Called everything from a taut little thriller to a complete deconstruction of the taut little thriller genre, this Austrian Desperate Hours caused some decent art house buzz a decade ago. Now, George Sluzier style, Haneke has taken his Cache cred and cashed in with a Hollywood remake. The results -- a beat for beat remake of Games, this time with an English-speaking cast. A decade has done little to change the story, or the incredibly repugnant way it is told.
Anna (Naomi Watts
), George (Tim Roth
), and their young son Georgie leave the big city and head up to a secluded, snooty, Hamptons like lakeside. They plan a fun vacation of sailing, golfing, and grilling. Into their life walks Paul (Michael Pitt
) and Peter (Brady Corbet
), two effete young men who claim to be staying with the next door neighbors. When a tiff over some eggs goes pear-shaped, the family soon finds themselves the subject of inhuman torture -- both physical (golf club to the shin) and psychological (threats, force, manipulation). Seems our lads in white are really full-blown whack jobs, traveling around the exclusive area picking off the residents. To them it's all one big sarcastic game, and the family is going to playÖ or else. Article continues below
There is no way to accurately describe how utterly reprehensible and irredeemable Funny Games is. It's smug and obvious, grandstanding on misguided principles both in front of and behind the camera. You just know that Haneke thinks he's made the ultimate pop culture message movie, a spit-in-your-face indictment of audience ennui toward all things violent and vulgar. One of the abominable anti-heroes even breaks the fourth wall once or twice to let us know that he's got our voyeuristic number. Games is indeed that kind of movie, an applied gimmick meant to challenge the conventions of cinema by asking us to consider not only the action onscreen, but our exploitable reaction to it. Unfortunately, boredom and intellectual nausea don't generally lend themselves to deep scholarly insights.
As our drippy duo, Pitt and Corbet are especially problematic. They're like inverse slacker versions of Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole, except without the personality. They're YouTube conceits of evil, vileness filtered through a MySpace kind of menace. We never believe in their power, or their madness, and they seem so waifish and whisper thin that we keep waiting for the rest of the Abercrombie and Fitch models to show up and start sulking. Not that our A-listers are any better. Watts is given over almost exclusively to red eyed sobbing, while Roth utters so few lines you're never quite sure if he's using his British accent or not. As with most one-set suspense efforts, the electricity between the actors is instrumental in creating dread. Haneke clearly forgot to pay his creative utility bills before production began.
Even worse, Funny Games is pointless. Whatever significance the story is supposed to have is lost in directorial quirkiness and character jerkiness. There are close-ups of unimportant objects, uninterrupted takes that feel like real-time patience testers, line after line of painful, pointless dialogue, off camera events, and a last-act moment that literally calls for a "do over." If this is how Europeans see America and its bloodlust-as-entertainment ideal, itís a sad reflection on both cultures. The only real torture here is the one Haneke inflicts on the audience.