Michael Haneke unleashed Funny Games on the world in 1997. It won instant acclaim, being up for the Palm D’Or at Cannes, but drew just as much complaint for its aggressive, fourth wall-breaking assault on the fans of violent movies. Haneke’s own status as an art film enfante terrible meant that the film never reached its target – the mainstream consumers of such films, particularly those in the US. And so when, a decade later, the opportunity arose to remake the film in English, Haneke agreed to helm it himself.
The strange element of this particular remake is that it is an exact remake – shot-for-shot in most cases. Indeed, even the house that makes up the main set of the film was built using the same blueprints as the 1997 version. This means the only real difference is in the fact that the actors are speaking English rather than the original’s German.
That Haneke chose to modify nothing else speaks volumes for the high regard in which he holds the film, but also renders this remake effectively redundant for those familiar with the original. The only interest lies in the curiosity of seeing other actors (in this case, Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Michael Pitt) take on the key roles.
Funny Games tells the story of Ann Farber (Watts), her husband George (Roth) and their son, whose peaceful excursion to their lakehouse is shattered when a pair of extremely polite young men (Pitt and Brady Corbet) come to their door.
A chain of events is set in motion and soon the invaders are laying bets as whether the family will still be alive the next morning…or not.
On the surface, the plot is one of a standard thriller; a home invasion where the victims seek an escape from their predicament. But Haneke has post-modern tricks up his sleeve. His villains joke about their motivations, offering up several fake stories from an abusive childhood to repressed Oedipal issues, asking their victims which would make them feel more comfortable. The violent acts (with one exception) occur out-of-shot, goading the audience and clearly asking them – why do they feel a need to see such acts?
This is the trick of Funny Games. It repeatedly plays with expectations and movie cliches, turning things around on the viewer just as they feel things are comfortably familiar. But it is subjective opinion as to whether this results in clever inversion of cinematic tropes, or smug self-indulgence. Undoubtedly, the movie thinks it is very intelligent, it is over to the viewer whether this grates or not.
As a remake, the English-language version of Funny Games is completely superfluous. Seen on its own merits, it is a witty thriller playing on the audience’s knowledge and expectations of the genre to entertain, provoke, frustrate and perhaps enlighten. Overall, a pointless remake of an important film.
Funny Games is available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.