DIR/WRI: Michael Haneke • PRO: Christian Baute, Andro Steinborn, Chris Coen, Hamish McAlpine • DOP: Darius Khondji • DES: Kevin Thompson • CAST: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart
Funny Games U.S. is Austrian director Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot American remake of his 1996 film of the same title, in which a middle-class family are terrorised in their holiday home by two effete, creepy young men (played by Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet), who occasionally break the fourth wall for Brechtian asides intended to point out that we’re watching people suffering for our entertainment. It’s an interesting choice for a remake of one of his own films, because Hollywood produces just the kind of films that presumably inspired this one, thus making an American version more on-target. The fact that the title acknowledges its remake status at least shows a commendable honesty.
The film itself is extremely well-made. There’s a gradual tension built up largely through slow, wide shots, seemingly mundane actions (with the occasional rather obvious planting of set-ups – though these are subverted somewhat later on), and eerie performances. There’s also some fine acting from Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Devon Gearhart, which almost justifies the remake.
There’s very little onscreen violence, but lots of tension (who knew the Nokia theme could sound chilling?), and pain, which is harder to endure than good old no-consequences blockbuster violence. It’s all bathed in a milky white light (at least during the daytime), both through art direction and lighting. This has several effects – one is to make it look more European, another is presumably stylistic, representing a cleanness that will be sullied, and of course, it’s unsettling, and untypical of American movies of this type. There’s a stillness that brings a feeling of menace from the very beginning.
The original film polarised critics when it came out. Possibly it was hated for offering little in the way of hope (and in places explicitly denying the audience hope), or because at times you get the feeling the director is judging the audience for watching his film. It has points to make about screen violence, but whether it succeeds in making those points is open to debate. It would be interesting to see how fans of torture porn would take to this movie, but they may not get a chance to see it, as it’s likely to be showing mostly to art-house crowds.