Film review – Funny Games U.S. (2007)

German director Michael Haneke (Caché, The Piano Teacher) has remade his 1997 Austrian film Funny Games as an almost shot-for-shot English language version. Funny Games U.S. now introduces a new audience to Haneke’s deeply upsetting message-film about complicity with cinematic violence.

An affluent middleclass couple (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) arrive with their son at their weekend home before being taken captive by a pair of snooty college students. Paul (Michael Pitt from Last Days) and Peter (Brady Corbet from Mysterious Skin) torment, torture and threaten to kill the family through a series of cruel and humiliating games that we, as an audience, are made to feel part of. Although most of the violence is off-screen, what transpires is particularly nasty.

By making the film so arduous to endure, Haneke makes us question why we have allowed violence in films to become a source of entertainment. Paul and Peter are devoid of any charismatic villainy, moments of cathartic release are denied, red herrings abound, many scenes go nowhere and Paul even casually addresses the audience directly. Funny Games U.S. will offend, frustrate, provoke and anger. This is part of its brilliance.

Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 312, 2008

© Thomas Caldwell, 2008