Sunday, April 06, 2008

FUNNY GAMES U.S. - who gets the last laugh?

You shouldn't forget the importance of entertainment.
FUNNY GAMES U.S. is Michael Haneke's shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 post-modern horror flick in which two polite teenage boys torture an affluent family for no reason other than to entertain themselves. The genius of the original film and this English-language remake is to create an atmosphere of stomach-churning tension without actually showing us any gory violence. Our imaginations fill in the blank between the scared reaction shots and the blood-spattered TV set. As a slow-burn thriller of almost unbearable tension, FUNNY GAMES is hard to beat. After all, what is more frightening than an evil that we cannot reason with? It's for this reason that I find the HOSTEL movies laughably unthreatening. If someone wants to sell me to a torturer, I'll simply offer more money. No, what's really terrifying is a situation in which I have simply no language in which to communicate with my kidnapper - no purchase on his conscience or on his wallet. The final shot of a torturer holding our eyes unashamed is brilliantly frightening.

On one level, we can simply watch FUNNY GAMES U.S. as a brilliantly executed thriller. But Haneke wants us to question our enjoyment of the experience. He does this by having one of the torturers break the fourth wall and directly question the audience. Not only is he torturing the couple, he is trying to make us feel bad for enjoying our voyueurism.

I have to say that I find this trite post-modernism rather simplistic and condascending. I feel no shame in enjoying a movie like FUNNY GAMES qua horror movie. I find it cathartic. I do not enjoy it as a voyueur but as an intelligent, affluent, comfortable woman who can empathise with the situation of the family in the film and who is working out her fear of social change through the experience. So who gets the last laugh? The director who tries to under-cut our enjoyment of his masterpiece with his hectoring, or the audience, who can choose to dismiss such foolishness and get a brilliant thriller anyway?

FUNNY GAMES U.S. played London 2007 and Sundance 2008. It was released in Canada, the USA and Greece earlier this year. It is currently on release in Finland and the UK and opens later this month in Israel, Singapore, Belgium, Norway, Frnace and Sweden. It opens in May in Portugal, Russia, the Netherlands and Germany. It opens in Romania in June and in Spain in July.

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