Chances are you have never heard of or seen Funny Games, I hadn’t until I watched a bitterly disappointing film by Michael Haneke in 2007 starring Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. Everything felt a little forced and lacked the artful taste that a Haneke film usually delivers in handfuls.
I soon learned why… ten years previous Haneke had made a film of the same name in his native German and it was phenomenal. It was for all intents and purposes a German Cape Fear, a mix of pure fear and charm. It, unfortunately, didn’t translate into an American film even with the same master director behind it, which really was a shame.
An idyllic lakeside vacation home is terrorized by Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering), a pair of deeply disturbed young men. When the fearful Anna (Susanne Lothar) is home alone, the two men drop by for a visit that quickly turns violent and terrifying. Husband Georg (Ulrich Mühe) comes to her rescue, but Paul and Peter take the family hostage and subject them to nightmarish abuse and humiliation. From time to time, Paul talks to the film’s audience, making us complicit in the horror.
What’s In A Name
They say a cast can make or break a film, and usually, both Naomi Watts and Tim Roth are a safe bet. But real life couple Lothar and the very talented Mühe are at their terrified best in the original Games and their chemistry can’t be faked. They were an acting couple who really did the whole “till death do them part” thing, staying married until Mühe passed away in 2007 at only 54.
However, the biggest difference comes in the casting of Paul, played by Austrian native Frisch whom you may recognize if you’re a Haneke fan from Benny’s Video (1992). After proving his talent in Dreamers (2003), Michael Pitt did his best as the charming sociopath Paul but is as effective as a wet fish in comparison to the devilishly misbehaved Frisch, whose performance you could almost compare to Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates.
A Social Commentary Turned Horror
The original intent for this film was a social moralistic commentary on the violence in media and the impact it has on impressionable minds, with Haneke being passionate about the subject. He even told producer Veit Heiduschka during the production of the film:
“If it’s a success it would be because the audiences had misunderstood the meaning of the film.”
Social commentary and horror go together like a census taker’s liver, fava beans, and a nice Chianti it would seem, with films like A Clockwork Orange also easily slipping into the horror genre as a commentary on media and violence. It’s awareness and 4th wall breaking is what brings us back to reality, in one particular scene we see an event that we are expecting to be violent but instead are treated to quite a reprieve, only to have one of the characters rewind the film to bring us back to the violence. By the end of the film, we have moved from an audience to bystanders, and finally to accomplices of this horrible crime. Funny Games is truly terrifying and ticks every box for a horror flick. This is one undiscovered gem that you’ll really want to check out.
What do you think? Deutsche or Viva la Americana? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.