Funny Games (1997)

“You’re on their side, aren’t you? So, who will you bet with?”

‘Funny Games’, directed in Michael Haneke in 1997, is an Austrian home invasion thriller. A wealthy family, Georg, Anna and their son Georgie, arrive at their holiday home for a break. When they arrive they meet Peter and Paul, who claim to be friends of a neighbour. The pair insinuate themselves into the house, and then being a process of psychological torture, making a bet with the family that they will be dead by morning. It’s a brutal, postmodern film. The torturers seem aware that they are in a film, directing and commenting on the tension that is both disconcerting and increases the feeling of their psychopathic emotional detachment. You get the feeling the Haneke is talking directly to you, goading you into reacting to the events and accusing you of being complicit in the actions of the characters. In this way, the movie offers a critique of the prurient obsession with the horror genre, and interestingly seems to anticipate the torture-based films of the 2000s. Haneke received some criticism for this, with accusations that he had crossed the line from tricksy commentary into moral approbation, but I found the film to be clever, albeit difficult to like. The best bits of the film are those jarring moments when the central torturer Peter acknowledges the camera, his, literal, winks to the audience are extremely chilling. This fourth-wall breaking reaches a climax when his friend is shot with Anna. Peter grabs a television remote control and rewinds the scene he is in, enabling him to prevent his friend’s death and to change the direction of the film. Haneke constantly offers catharsis and repeatedly takes it away, making this film brutal, not only because of what happens on screen, what because of the way the director treats the audience.

Would I recommend it? Difficult – it’s a hard film to like, but I guess that’s not the point. If you have the stomach for it then yes, it’s worth watching. Maybe a double bill with ‘The Vanishing’, another movie that doesn’t offer an emotional release in the end.

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