The rules are simple. Pick a family and make them play. After almost eleven years, Michael Haneke (Hidden) returned to the scene of one of his most celebrated crimes, a classy remake of Funny Games. An affluent family arrives at its vacation home, looking forward to a fortnight of secluded relaxation. Or at least, that’s what they had in mind before a man dropped by for eggs. A chilling campaign of terror at the hands of two cold-blooded psychopaths, Tim Roth (Dark Water) and Naomi Watts (King Kong) are but two of the victims asked to play a series of sinister games, and what follows is a well-crafted critique of the violence that permeates modern society.
It makes perfect sense that Michael Haneke might want to put an American cast through the despair of his original vision, because you do get the feeling that he had an American audience in mind when he made the first film. Funny Games is a curious beast because despite its forceful intent, there’s very little onscreen violence to speak of. Haneke cranks up the tension and successfully uses the viewers’ imagination against them. You might not see the actual events transpire, but by the time he reveals the devastation, you’ll be right there with the hapless victim. There is blood, there is carnage, but most of the damage is manipulated though mind games. Hollywood take note.
Tim Roth plays family man George Farber with welcome restraint; those that remember him best for Reservoir Dogs (who doesn’t?) will be surprised by the subtlety of his performance. Having said that, an intelligent early twist keeps him on the sidelines for much of the film. Naomi Watts is asked to do the lion’s share of the acting, not to mention crying, and it’s her performance that evokes most sympathy. Then again, it would take a very cruel moviegoer to side with Michael Pitt’s stunning portrayal of Paul. He may look like Leonardo DiCaprio’s creepy dough-eyed sibling, but he sure makes the role his own. Intellectual, uncompromising and incredibly dangerous, Pitt nails his performance to the wall with sledgehammer-like proficiency.
Brady Corbet’s Peter makes for sharp contrast; shy but sinister, innocent yet somehow all knowing. Both are equally shocking, both are equally terrifying. Devon Gearhart plays son Georgie, and his delivery is on a par with Pitt’s. He isn’t asked to do much, other than look scared and feel threatened, but his commendable portrayal adds another layer of torment to an already excruciating night in.
Some might find the leisurely pace distracting, and Paul’s infrequent conversations with the viewer at home could be deemed excessive. There’s also a chance that the bleak nature of the film will put some people off. Not because they can’t cope with the harsh reality of the situation, or that they believe every action has a rational explanation, but more likely because in the years that have passed since the original release, we have come to endure this cheerless endgame a hundred times over. Few will be startled by the films denouement, it would be more surprising if a knight in shining armour pulled up on his steed and saved the day. Figuratively speaking of course.
Funny Games in either form is a drip feed of fear and calculated terror. The original movie shocked audiences for the first time over a decade ago, and this worthwhile remake loses none of its power. Recommended. AW