“Funny Games” is the most disturbing film I have ever seen. Two nights in a row, I awoke to stomach-churning images, but not of those we see in traditionally exploitative movies such as “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” “Hostel” or “Saw.”
I awoke to images of two young men with white golf shirts, white tennis shorts and white gloves. Two young men you might see at your local country club. The kind of gentlemen mothers might imagine as mates for their daughters.
Perversely named Peter and Paul, they are psychopathic killers who tantalize and torture their victims — in this case a father, mother and their young son, played by Tim Roth, Naomi Watts and Devon Gearhart, respectively.
If these characters appeared in any of those dumb films intended for teenage boys and other voyeurs of sadistic horror and violence, I could dismiss them all with a flick of the wrist.
Unsuitable for children
But here I must acknowledge a nasty reality. “Funny Games” is the work of a filmmaker who exhibits brilliance. It is a film by Austrian director-writer Michael Haneke, who has remade his 1997 feature shot by shot. It is a film not meant for the weak or timid of heart, and under no circumstances should you consider taking a child of any age to this movie.
My first reaction after the final shot was that I had been hijacked into a world of horrid decadence. Like his duo of sweet-talking villains, Haneke tortures and tantalizes us into virtual submission. Once the family is captured, we hope and expect that they will find a way to escape or injure their assailants. That’s the kind of relief we are used to receiving from the familiar Hollywoodized story — relief and a sense of vicarious vengeance, especially when a sweet young son is involved.
Do not expect that release here, for you can make a case that Haneke is toying with our emotions as well. You want to smack him. He has no right to do this: lure us into a theater and then force us to endure endless moments of false hope. You cannot accuse him of presenting us with scenes of voyeuristic violence, because all of it happens off-screen, which makes it all even more horrid. Even if you consider yourself a pacifist, there is a chance you will want to grab a shotgun and blow the guts out of these awful young men, who seem to have climbed out of a movie such as “A Clockwork Orange.”
You want to dismiss “Funny Games” as a travesty, a disgraceful manipulation of our emotions. But somehow, even if you reach that conclusion, the perverse part of your psyche wants to lure those target audiences for cheap thrillers into the theater; you want them to see what really happens when two neatly dressed killers go to work. The horror and fear can prove unbearable, and we have seen enough news stories to know crime scenes do exist.
In a perverse way, “Funny Games” may be seen as an antidote for cheap, violent fare attracting kids into theaters. I can say no more other than to repeat that I found it unbearable and disturbing. I cannot reveal more, other than to say that once you are engaged, this movie will not let you off the hook.
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY Michael Haneke
STARRING Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Devon Gearhart, Michael Pitt and Brady Corbett
RUNNING TIME: 108 minutes