Movies · Reviews

Sundance Review: ‘Funny Games’ Delivers Shock and Yawn

Michael Haneke’s shot-for-shot remake starts with intensity and rolls on toward stupidity like a breakless freight train.
By  · Published on January 23rd, 2008

Writer/Director Michael Haneke already made the movie Funny Games once in German back in 1997. It was a very successful film, winning a Golden Palm at the ’97 Cannes Film Festival. It was so successful in fact, that Haneke decided to make a shot-for-shot remake for release in the United States. He secured funds from Celluloid Dreams and Warner Independent Pictures, lined up a cast that includes Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt and has successful created what may become the most polarizing cinematic experience of 2008 — and it’s only January.

The premise is simple: a wealthy man (Roth), his wife (Watts) and their son (Devon Gearhart) travel to their cottage on the lake for a few weeks to enjoy a mid-Summer vacation. When they arrive though, their house is invaded by two psychotic young men (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet) who force them to participate in a series of sick and twisted games, with constant impending promise that in 12 hours, none of the family will be left alive.

It is an intense concept that drives this film’s first act to be a nail-biting experience. Violence happens, but always off camera and the audience is immerse inside the terrifying predicament of this family unit. As well, the two captures are sinister and truly disturbing — Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet are simply fantastic in their roles. Naomi Watts and Tim Roth are good as well.

Unfortunately, after about the midway point, this film absolutely derails and begins to unravel. It begins with the film becoming self-aware. At one point Michael Pitt’s character looks into the camera and holds a short conversation with the audience. Later, he actually uses the remote control to the couple’s television to rewind the film. Yes, he rewinds the damn film. It is the most ridiculous and unnecessary thing that could have possibly happened.

To make matters worse, the film also slows down considerably for the end. And now, aside from being strange to the point of incoherence, it also takes on the quality of boring. All of the tension that was built during the first act is gone, never to return. As the final credits roll, there will be no reaction from audience members (good or bad) other than “What the…?”

Funny Games, as I said before, is going to be a very polarizing experience for audiences. Some people will absolutely love it for its complete diversion from the traditional thriller model and its intense violent (but not in your face violent) nature. Others will only feel anger — anger that the film had so much and pissed it all away, anger that it should have been better and anger that it is 90 minutes of their life that they will never get back. You can’t count me among the latter.

Keep an eye on our Sundance 2008 Homepage for more from Park City.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)