Funny Games is an astonishing piece of work but it's not without its problems. Most of those though don't concern the film. Confused? Let me try and explain. The film itself is as powerful as it was in Haneke's original subtitled 1997 version. It is still a true demonstration of cinema's power. It's a bravura display of direction and mood. It features riveting performances from all concerned. It plays with the conventions of the thriller genre and gently sucks away all hope to heartstopping effect. It is, in short, essential viewing... but the people who need to see this — multiplex drones who've become inured to violence as entertainment — probably won't.
I hope I'm wrong. As a fully paid up member of the bitter old cynics association, I wholeheartedly believe that the masses need a regular mindfuck of such unsettling proportions. If you want a more educated reason than 'mindfuck', well, Funny Games speaks volumes about the nature of violence, the nihilism of youth and the nature of the medium. If you want a purely frivolous reason, well, you'll never look at an egg the same way again. But, frankly, the fact that it provides a mindfuck of such unsettling proportions is enough for me... and probably the very reason why the 27 Dresses crowd won't be beating the path they should.
Some will no doubt analyse — in painstaking detail — the irony of Haneke remaking his own filmed attack on the mass market for the mass market; a semi-valid, if pointless, argument. In truth, you could write a thesis on the pros and cons of remaking foreign movies for a mainstream audience — rip-off or positive step? an opening up of culture or a sign of dumbing down? — but if this is what it takes to give just one annoying texting teen grunt a mindfuck of such unsettling proportions then it's probably a very good thing.
The story is simplicity itself. A wealthy family Ann (Watts), George (Roth) and son Georgie (Gearhart) arrive at their glorious, sprawling lakeside summer house. Haneke has already started playing with the audiences heads before they arrive, with the family's in-car classical music choices ignored for a thrash metal soundtrack of ear-drum punishing volume.
The family pass the neighbours' residence and are introduced to Peter (Corbet) and Paul (the excellent Pitt) — or possibly vice versa — their neighbours' slightly mysterious, but generally charming white-clad young house guests. Paul and Peter — or possibly vice versa — then appear at Ann and George's door asking for eggs. After a strangely innocent but really quite sinister exchange, it becomes clear that Peter and Paul — or possibly vice versa — don't want eggs. What they want is to torture Ann, George and Georgie before they kill them. Like they've just done to the people next door. And as they will undoubtedly do to the people the other side once they've had their fun with Ann and George.
There are no explanations provided other than Paul and Peter — who continually swap names to confuse their "hosts" — enjoy violence because violence is entertaining. That's Haneke's callous point. While little violence is shown onscreen, the aftermath is obvious, as is the victims' ongoing trauma, and you will find yourself hoping for a crowd-pleasing twist and some Hollywood gloss to make it stop. You get it... and then Haneke snatches it away in playful fashion which would be amusing if it wasn't a mindfuck of such unsettling proportions. A genuinely disturbing experience. Here's hoping it finds (and mindfucks) those that need it most.