‘Funny Games’ Review: Sadism at its Finest

Posted in The Screening Room by - October 14, 2015

Sometimes you encounter a film that is unrelenting in its approach to a genre, and it also affects you on a personal level. Funny Games is one of those films. A shot for shot remake of the original that is directed by the original director Michael Haneke, it is quite possibly one of the harshest, most nihilistic takes on screen violence I’ve ever seen. It also has a darker than pitch black, emptiness of space level of black humor that would be hard for most filmgoers to appreciate.

The film follows the Farber family, played by Tim Roth and Naomi Watts, as their lake house is invaded by Paul and Peter, played by the congenially menacing Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet. The two home invaders take it upon themselves to play increasingly sadistic games with the family, ranging from “find your dead dog” to “choose who dies first”. It’s a disturbing premise, and as the film continues, one that become harder to watch as the Farbers are subjected to the worst horrors imaginable. Needless to say, come the final scene in the film, one feels drained and exhausted from all of the sadism. 

The reason they play their sadistic games is given a reason or motive outside of “because we can”, which further reinforces the notion that the two are truly unhinged. The film’s level of violence escalates with each passing minute, unrepentant in it’s sadism and general sense of malice towards the family. Director Michael Haneke has said on numerous occasions that the level of violence in the film is intended to be a reflection on the use of violence in the media and how we perceive said violence, and I think it works.

It also helps that Haneke is able to thoroughly bend horror genre tropes in ways that hadn’t been seen Scream, primarily through the fourth wall-breaking of Michael Pitt’s Paul. Throughout the film, Paul smirks at the audience and makes it very clear that he knows he is in a work of fiction, going as far as to prolong the length of the film to ensure it is a feature-length film. It is an interesting idea to allow the antagonist to be aware of his state of reality, and to work against the preconceived notions of how the genre is intended to play out. 

The rewind scene is often noted as the scene where the film breaks the genre due in part to the serious tone of the film up until it happens. Having a character that refuses to be pander to his genre masters makes for an interesting film, and Pitt is able to embody that brash, uncaring mindset perfectly. He taunts the audience at every step and, by the film’s bleak conclusion, one realizes that he has won, and was always going to win, no matter the other character’s actions. 

Aside from Pitt, the other performances in the film are quite good. Watts and Roth embody the horrified Farbers and bring a real sense of vulnerability to their performances. They are able to make you really feel for their character’s plight, and sympathize with the horrifying games they are being forced to play. Brady Corbet gets lost in the shuffle as Paul, and that is due in part to the strength of Pitt’s performance. He is serviceable but isn’t given much to work with once Pitt takes over. 

Funny Games isn’t for everyone and frankly I’m having a hard time suggesting it due the unrelenting levels of violence and sadism in the film. The last time a film made me feel so strongly was when I reviewed Henry: Potrait of a Serial Killer almost a year ago, and I absolutely abhorred that film. If you understand the nihilistic, mean-spirited nature of the film going into it, then check it out. Otherwise, this film isn’t for you or anyone that doesn’t want to challenge their notions on violence in film. 

Final Say: You Decide

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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