Genre: Drama, Suspense/Horror, Thriller and Remake
Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.
Theatrical Release Date: March 14th, 2008
MPAA Rating: R for terror, violence and some language.
Directed By: Michael Haneke
Starring: Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Brady Corbet, Devon Gearhart, Michael Pitt
SCORE = 3/10
Back in 1997 German director Michael Haneke made Funny Games, a disturbing and thought-provoking thriller that toys with the viewer’s place as a voyeur. In 2008, the re-make, also directed by Haneke, debuts with an all new cast and this time in English. The problem is that it is essentially a shot-for-shot, line-for-line, verbatim re-shoot. This makes watching this film pointless if you’ve seen the original, or unnecessary to watch the original if you’re planning on seeing the 2008 version. And despite those pesky subtitles that often upset American audiences, the original’s authenticity and casting is surprisingly superior.
Anne (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) arrive at their vacation home ready to enjoy some golf and sailing with their son (Devon Gearhart) and neighbors. As Anne is unpacking groceries, she is confronted by two young men, dressed in golf attire, and wearing white gloves. Thinking nothing of their politeness and harmless asking for eggs, explaining that the neighbors ran out of cooking materials, Anne immediately helps them. But when the two boys begin obviously antagonizing her, she realizes that their family is about to be taken hostage for a terrifying night of anything but “funny” games.
The same opening overhead shot of a car (this time an SUV) driving down a desolate highway while the family inside plays a game of guessing opera tunes, opens the film. The same opera pieces are used, the same title sequence and the same ear-piercing abstract death metal. The film is undoubtedly disturbing, unique and white-knuckle suspenseful, but if you’ve seen the original, there’s nothing new. The breed of dog changed, along with the style of phone (from mobile to cellular), but the house’s white gate looks almost completely identical, and the kitchen and all of its seemingly random decorations are all a perfect match. Georg and Anna have been altered to their American counterparts George and Anne, and some of the original translations have been reinterpreted (such as fatty to tubby and cheeky to rude).
What makes this remake only slightly more successful than Gus Van Sant’s famously horrendous turn with Hitchcock’s Psycho is that Funny Games was never that well known. Taking what many believe to be one of the greatest films of all time (Psycho) and re-doing it scene for scene is so utterly pointless, it’s a wonder the idea was ever even carried out. At least with Funny Games the reasons are more coherent. Making a German film more accessible for American audiences through the use of English speaking actors isn’t entirely inane.
Devoid of an omniscient soundtrack and played out to feel like real-time, the events of this one freakish night is quite a distressingly entertaining ordeal. Regardless of the superiorities that are evident in the original, this version isn’t without its shock value and thought-provoking commentary on voyeurism and violence. But with its unexpectedly appalling conclusion, bizarre plot twists and the unexplainable interference with the “fourth wall” (a.k.a. having characters talk directly to the audience), Funny Games may very well be a film that could never have been truly accepted by American audiences in the first place.