“You shouldn’t forget the importance of entertainment.”
Nine years ago, I remember seeing a trailer on TV for Funny Games, a 2007 horror flick about a home invasion and a wager that the family involved would not live to see the morning. I was pretty young, and I remember being absolutely terrified of the concept. I’ve always found home invasion to be one of the most chilling subsets of horror because it’s so plausible and represents a rational fear. The trailer alone was one of the scariest things I remember seeing as a kid. I went on to see the movie just a few years ago out of curiosity, and I found that it was actually a shot-for-shot English language remake of a 1997 Austrian film by the same director. It was a pretty uncomfortable experience, but it’s always been a movie that has stuck with me. It certainly works outside the box in terms of conventional horror and kept me fascinated from start to finish. When I spotted the 1997 version on the 1001 List, I figured it was time to revisit good old Michael Haneke and his strange creation by watching the original movie.
I think after doing some research, I was better able to understand what Haneke was going for with this one. I’ve read some reviews that really pan him for breaking the fourth wall and doing silly narrative choices in what would otherwise be an excellent horror film. I think Haneke would find these reviews amusing, because he was really trying to criticize the use of violence in media altogether, not partake in it. Yes, this is a really violent movie, but it all seems sort of arbitrary. The two killers, Peter and Paul, commit their murders for the sake of entertainment, but it often seems pointless or boring even to them. Then sometimes Haneke will twist the “torture porn” formula, such as when the camera fixes on Paul preparing a sandwich while the first (and most tragic) murder of the film finally occurs. I found a quote from Haneke about the release of the movie which I love: “Anyone who leaves the cinema doesn’t need the film, and anyone who stays does.” It’s all violence for the sake of violence, and you’re not supposed to like it. Haneke is often known for his commentary on the spectacle of American culture, and this is a movie that falls right in line with that viewpoint.
Perhaps just as interesting is the movie’s status as metafiction. Paul is clearly aware of being a part of a film, frequently addressing the camera and discussing how their actions fit into a plot structure. At the end of the movie, he even comments to Peter that fiction is just as real as reality, for it is perceived just the same as reality, so who’s to say the difference. Peter doesn’t show much awareness of being inside a movie, but he plays along with Paul’s instructions without question in a dopey sort of way that almost suggests he doesn’t care. Haneke is constantly furthering this metafiction by twisting conventional horror tropes. Typically, one leading character will survive the massacre of a slasher film, but the entire family dies in Funny Games with no repercussions to the villains. When the mother manages to get a hold of the shotgun and kill Peter, Paul simply rewinds time to fix the story in his favor. This is a moment that is often criticized, but I think it’s fantastic. You finally get to take a breath and see some sort of triumph from the family, but it’s quickly taken from you in such a cheap way. It makes for such a dismal, uncomfortable movie, and it’s unlike any other for this reason.
I think it’s pretty funny that this movie had to be marketed as a conventional slasher home invasion film. You can’t just go on television and say, “Everyone, come see this poignant commentary on the prevalence of violence in the media tied in with metafictional elements,” so people probably went in expecting a typical bloodbath. I’m sure many people were thrown off by the tone of the movie. It’s an unrelenting story, and you never get a sense of hope for the entire thing. The only comfort I found is that the whole metafiction thing seems to be a wink at the audience as if to remind them that it’s just a movie and that there’s nothing to fear. While I really enjoyed Funny Games, I wouldn’t say it’s a movie I’d like to watch again now that I’m wise to its surprises.
If you’re interested in checking out this movie, it would certainly be in your interest to do so. I remember seeing the 2007 version for the first time and being so caught off guard but ultimately entertained by what a strange film this was. (For English-speakers, I would also say that the 2007 version is just as suitable to watch as the original. They’re practically the same, so you might as well get a bit higher visual quality and not bother with the subtitles.) If you keep in mind what Funny Games is trying to accomplish, you’ll be a lot less likely to be upset with the film for its choices. I think the reason this tends to happen is because Michael Haneke shows what a capable filmmaker he is and what a gruesome, engaging story he could tell us, but he ends up rejecting this notion and condemning us for wanting to see that in the first place. There’s some powerful commentary wrapped up in Funny Games, and it’s a movie well worth exploring.
Films Left to Watch: 961