Genre: Drama Crime Thriller (Austria)
Starring: Susanne Lothar (The Piano Player • The Reader), Ulrich Mühe (The Lives of Others)
Directed By: Michael Haneke (Caché • The White Ribbon)
Overview: When a family heads up to the cottage on vacation, the last thing they expected was to be held hostage and tormented by a couple of spoiled rich kids. Well I guess them's the breaks, huh?
The first time I saw the fourth-wall-shattering twist in Funny Games, I had this moment where I didn't know what to make of it. It shook the foundation of my viewing so completely that I stopped and blinked at what had just transpired. I didn't know if I hated it or loved it, but I knew that writer / director Michael Haneke had done something very original. It was either complete stupidity or complete genius, and my brain just hadn't sorted out which it was. When the film ended, I asked myself what purpose it served. This time around, I still wondered why, but I did so knowing it had become the most memorable scene of Funny Games.
The fourth wall is only broken by one character, the funny game instigator and obvious leader, Paul. The first instance of his breaking of the fourth wall is innocuous. Paul merely turns his malignantly grinning face to us and winks. Later, as the two home-invading assailants are stepping up the serious a little, Paul says to his accomplice, "The people at home don't want to hear this." He turns to us and, in full Ferris Bueller style, says, "you're rooting for these guys aren't you?". Then there's 'the scene': the double-barrel shotgun sits there on the table. Anna sees her chance, picks up the thing and blows a hole through Peter, who happens to be standing in front of it. Paul grabs the shotgun from her, and annoyed, asks where the remote is. He finds it, hits the rewind button and all that has just transpired rewinds to before she took her shot. Now ready, Paul stops her from doing it again. From here, the end of the film comes quickly, and Peter and Paul head over to the neighbours, the audience knowing full well that all this is going to happen again with a new couple.
When asked the 'why bother' question, Girlfriend of Squish responded that the dynamic of home invasion is in numbers, so even though the outcome to Anna would have been the same whether Peter was alive or not, the next home's invasion couldn't properly happen without both sadists working together. Anyways, that fourth-wall shattering moment serves to remind us that Paul is in fact 'the hero' of the film, in the same way that solitary audience-aware characters are, like Fight Club's Narrator is the hero, in the same way that Ferris is the hero during Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The difference here of course is that the audience doesn't ever root for the bad guy unless he's after a worse guy. What Funny Games did in that moment of rewinding an entire scene and undoing the only righteous and just event of the film was to let the audience know that there was now hopelessness for our heroine. If one man has such power over time and chance, well anyone they run into will lose, won't they? But you still root don't you?
The only downside to having this dynamic, at least IMHO, is that from the moment the fourth wall is broken so completely, the cinematography needs to reflect this dynamic of Godhood. More on that after the photo...
The problem with movies where a family is taken hostage or stalked by bad guys is the audience. We viewers are often consistently smarter that the poor shlubs suffering at the hands of the antagonists and what could have been a decent thriller can easily turn into a B-Grade "they-shoulda" Hecklefest film, you know, movies like Unlawful Entry where people do stupid things like leave the gun lying next to the bad guy after takin' 'em out with a rolling pin. Those movies leave the audience to squirm in their seats unable to stop the cliché. Funny Games, on the other hand, is a chilling Austrian suspense thriller about a family heading off the cottage country for a week or two only to be terrorized by a couple of rich brats when they arrive. What sets Funny Games apart from other home invasion / hostage terror flicks is its hyper-realistic nature. Yes, it's brutal and more than qualifies as a Caution Film but writer / director Michael Haneke quite obviously spent much time on the script and the plot development, since, with very few exceptions, we as the audience can enjoy the very logical unfolding of this extreme human drama.
Under the guise of borrowing eggs, two boys begin playing their funny games with Anna, Georg Sr., and their little Georg Jr.. Quickly, both the eggs and their guises are dropped, the man is crippled and the real Hell begins. From there, the thugs step up their threats more and more and we, the audience, see how the poor tormented family handles it. Funny Games may be hard to watch, but it's a quality production and these particular sadists play the part marvellously.
A couple of guys who was up to no good, started makin trouble in my neighborhood!
Performance: 9 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 9 Mood: 8
Overall Rating: 84% (Join In, Take a Turn)
What's funny about Funny Games, however is that on several occasions Haneke breaks the fourth wall through Paul, the lead assailant. You may love it, you may hate it, but it's unique. My only issue with this technique was how it clashed with the cinematography. I believe that once we know that Paul is aware of us, the visual theme should have shifted more towards the voyeuristic. Instead of seeing the full effect of the tortures taking place at the most horrific moments of the film, we don't get to see it. Rather we follow Paul, played wickedly by Arno Frisch, to the kitchen or are merely shown a close-up of Anna's face when we should be seeing the entire room.
Damn. Just as I'd done with Salo, I think I just explained the reason it's shot that way. Paul is quite a blasé individual, and it's apparent that his interest in the funny games they play might even border on boredom. Add a cinematography that helps the fact and we get a better sense of his character. In fact, it makes what torment they cause to our family just that much worse. Creepy.