I'm going to start with an almost disclaimer. I am not recommending this movie. If you do not like disturbing, upsetting movies, please, do not see this movie. It's not your typical thriller or situational horror movie. It's not Jason or Michael or Chucky. It is something else entirely. It's frightening, emotionally violent and it will stick to you.
Now that I have that out of the way. . .
I saw this movie when it first came out on DVD, several months ago. It upset me to no end. I kept thinking about it, and what it meant, and what it was trying to get across, and why I couldn't dismiss it. I got the original Austrian version from Netflix, and it was also amazingly effective. The American version is pretty much a shot-for-shot remake, in English. Even more upsetting, for some reason.
Here's a short plot summary, without giving away anything. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, along with their young son and dog, go to their weekend summer home. Two polite young men invade their home, in a courteous manner, and force the family to play sadistic games in order to survive.
And hilarious hijinks ensue, as they say.
I have to say that I don't think that horror movies are evil, or that they cause people to turn into psycho-killers. I am a huge fan of both horror movies and psychological thrillers, although I hate the Saw movies and the Hostel movies. Some have thrown Funny Games into the pile with those two film series, but that seems to be mis-labelling (or mis-tagging, as they would say on etsy). This is a different breed of movie all together. Or is it? See, I'm still not sure.
According to the writer/director, Michael Haneke, the movie has a moral point--sadistic violent torture has become entertainment, and audiences who enjoy these types of movies, with sadistic violent torture as their main storyline, are morally corrupt. So, Haneke made just such an exploitative movie to illustrate this point, with some tricks thrown in to let the watcher know that there's more going on here than sheer entertainment. The whole thing is like a long con of a sermon, and you can see exactly what he's doing and where it's going. It's an obvious message movie.
You know what? I still don't know what I think about it. I don't know if I like it. I don't know what it means to me. But I do know this. I haven't gotten this movie out of my head since I originally watched it. Isn't that one of the signs of an effective piece of art? There's something so revolting and yet so compelling about it. Part of that is the great acting. I swear, you could throw Naomi Watts into any movie, and she could save it. The lady has some chops, and she is fantastic in this truly difficult role. The two prep school monsters are also incredible. While I adore Tim Roth, he honestly didn't have all that much to do in his role, but he does it well, as always.
But the real praise has to go to Haneke. There is a reason why Funny Games made both best and worst movies of the year lists. It has a lot of artistic merit. The way he uses the camera for certain shots, keeping it still while devastating action continues, gives it an almost documentary-style realness. It's clever, it's compelling, and it's extraordinarily sad.
Yet, the real criticism goes to Haneke, too. He's almost like the mother who says sugar makes her child go nuts, yet she feeds him cake and soda, and then gets mad when his behavior is not what she wants it to be. You like torture as entertainment? Here, have a big old helping of torture as entertainment. I made it just for you. Now, don't you know how terrible that is? How could you watch that? I shake my head at you! Tsk tsk.
Yes, I'm still ambivalent. Technically, it's a brilliant, provocative film. Morally, man, I still don't know. But I am still thinking about it, and there's something to be said for that.
Does anyone else want to weigh in on this one? I thought, by writing about the movie, I would be able to figure out what I really thought about it. I'm back to where I started. . .