Funny Games (1997)
funny games | michael haneke | susanne lother | ulrich muhe | arno frisch | crime | drama | thriller | austria | home invasion | meta | frank giering | stefan clapczynski | doris kunstmann | christoph bantzer | wolfgang gluck | susanne meneghel | monika zallinger
Film: Funny Games
Director: Michael Haneke
Writer: Michael Haneke
Starring: Susanne Lothar, Ulrich Mühe and Arno Frisch
Now I have to be honest, I actually saw the American remake first. In college my roommate had rented it and told me that it would be up my alley since I’m into horror films. I did like it, but I thought some of the breaking of the 4th wall was a bit too much. When I learned that this was written and directed by the same guy, I knew that I had to see the original. It has been well over a decade since I saw the original and finally checked it out for a Best of Horror in the 1990’s series for a podcast. The synopsis is two violent young men take a mother, father and son hostage in their vacation cabin and force them to play sadistic “games” with one another for their own amusement.
We start this film in a car on its way to vacation home that is talked about in the synopsis. The mother is Anna (Susanne Lothar) and she is riding in the passenger seat. Driving is her husband Georg (Ulrich Mühe). Their son is in the back, Stefan Clapczynski, and they also have their dog. The parents are playing a game in the car where they try to guess the composer of classic music, the title of the piece and things to this nature.
When they are arriving, they see their neighbors are outside with some younger men. They ask if they can help to get their boat into the water and it is agreed they will. The family goes into their house and to unpack. The two young men come over, Paul (Arno Frisch) and Peter (Frank Giering). It is interesting they’re both wearing white gloves, but it is never acknowledged by the family.
Peter comes to the door asking if they can get some eggs to take to the neighbors. Anna asks what they’re for and Peter tells her he doesn’t know. She gives him 4 eggs and before he leaves, he drops them. Anna cleans it up and agrees to give him four more, after he is persistent. She wraps them up this time and then he comes back when the dog jumped on him so he dropped them. This time though, Paul is there and he asks to check out a golf club belonging to Georg. The dog is outside barking, but he stops, which catches the attention of Georg.
He comes up to the house and Anna is going crazy. She wants the two young men to leave and Georg is confused as to what is going on. He slaps Paul while telling them to go, which results in him getting hit in the leg with the golf club, shattering his leg. This is the beginning of psychological games that involve tying them up, asking them to decide who will die next and physically hurting them. It becomes a bet to see if they can survive the next twelve hours or not and gets to the point, would have even want to survive this game?
Now I should give you some background here. The writer and director, Michael Haneke, wrote this film if my memory serves because he feels that human nature is sick that we watch the news to see bad things happening. This film actually breaks the 4th wall much like his remake does, but to be honest, I like how they do it here. It is much more subtle and there are just a few times that Paul directly speaks to us. The film is really questioning us and if we want to see these depraved things that are happening. I also noticed some of this in framing some shots. Where we normally would get a normal two-shot, where it is at an angle, we get it where they’re positioned looking directly at the camera. A lot of this is engaging us, saying that we are depraved and want more.
What really makes this scary to me is that these boys really don’t have a motive for what they’re doing. I like that it plays with them pretending they had bad things happening in their past to cause them to. It is even better is that Georg calls them out on this and they flat out acknowledge that he is right, they’re both well to do kids who are looking to the future, but they just decide to do these things. It isn’t a new concept, as you can see in The Strangers and Knock Knock that they don’t need a motive and that to me is scary. It is interesting though that this film came out first from the two films I mentioned.
For the remake, I heard a podcast questioning why the family never asks why these two are wearing gloves. We know it is so they don’t leave fingerprints. For this version, the family is so busy with unpacking and getting their boat ready, I could see overlooking why these two are just randomly wearing gloves. I’ve been busy doing something that I haven’t noticed some things that could be like this for sure.
I want to move next to the pacing of the film. I like that it really doesn’t waste any time getting into it. We get introduced to the family and then seeing these two young men with the neighbors is interesting. It totally disarms the family, because they think they know them. We soon get the idea that the other family was toyed with and there’s a group that Anna speaks to on the dock with Peter and Paul. There is sense of impending dread that they will be next. That is what the film does, the dread just builds. There is a moment that I feel is a bit of cheat, but I get why the film does it. This is late in the second act, start of the third act. This film also hits a lull before that for me. I get the emotional impact this game has on the family, but it does go on a bit long for my liking. The ending definitely works for what we are seeing as well.
That moves me to the acting of the film, which I thought was really good. Lothar is pretty strong in the beginning of the film. I would say that she’s the strongest. We see her completely defeated by the end though and I really liked that. Her performance in this was solid. Mühe is more subdued, which I find interesting. He is hobbled pretty early on and I thought his performance was fine. It just isn’t as strong as Lothar, which to me is speaking about norms where the husband is the weaker of the two. I really liked the two villains. There is smugness about them. Firsch is even mean to Giering, which I found interesting. They did a really good job. I do have to commend Clapczynski as well. The rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.
To the effects of the film, this is where I have a bit of an issue. Everything that happens violently is done off screen. I find this interesting that the film is a social commentary on why we as viewers like watching films or television with this in it, yet you don’t show it. I do wonder, since it was all practical, if they couldn’t pull it off which would affect the realism. I do think the aftereffects are solid though and the emotional impact worked. The film is shot very well in my opinion as well.
The last thing to cover would be the soundtrack of the film. For the most part it didn’t really stand out to me aside from a few things. I do think that it really shows the demeanor of this family while they’re playing the game of guessing the classic music. That makes them trying to fight back make sense and a solid reason for Paul and Peter to pick them. I do love the metalish song that was used. We get it in the opening credits, during a scene with the boy and then at the end. I do want to add it to collection if I’m honest.
Now with that said, I did enjoy this film in a sick twisted way. The social commentary is interesting and I think the breaking of the 4th wall works here better than in the remake. The story is pretty basic, but it is effective. I think that the acting really carries it which was good across the board. I do think the film has a slight pacing issue. It gets into it; there is just a lull in the second act and a cheat that I didn’t really care for after that. The ending works for what the film is showing us and its shot well. I did want more from the effects side as most everything is off-screen. I do love the metal song used and the rest of the soundtrack fit for what is needed. Overall I thought this was a good film, but I would only recommend it if you want to check out the social commentary. I will warn you, this film is from Austria. It is in German, so I had to watch it with subtitles on. If that’s an issue, I would avoid this one for sure.
My Rating: 8 out of 10