In this horror film about a wealthy family of three, a man, his wife and their son, who are taken hostage after their home is invaded by two college-aged serial killers, one of the victims asks, "Why don't you just kill us?" One of the killers answers, "You mustn't forget the importance of entertainment."
Austrian auteur Michael Haneke directs this shot-by-shot remake of his own 1997 foreign-language film of the same name. Then as now, Haneke is commenting on the entertainment culture that now thrives on violence, especially killing.
In the decade since Haneke first directed Funny Games, if anything, his commentaries have only been proven correct. Just in the past five years, the cinema landscape has been bombarded with movies that keep upping the ante in terms of murder, brutality, torture and body counts.
In this new film, which is intended for an American audience, one of the killers asks, "Do you think this is enough?" The angel-face demon named Paul, played perfectly by Michael Pitt, looks at the camera and asks the question again. In this way, Haneke is also asking the audience.
Is this enough? How many movies do we need of people being mass murdered, tortured, or severely brutalized? Is this what we want our culture to be? Is this what we consider fun on a weekend night? Are these our games?
As you watch this film, you can't help but be struck that while Haneke is himself making a horror film about murder and brutality, he is also rebelling against the rules and conventions that define the genre by not displaying and in fact reveling in that murder and brutality.
Yes, there is violence in this movie, but it all happens off-screen. You hear screams, stab wounds, gun shots, and you see the splattering of blood, but Haneke is specific to never show you anyone dying.
The only violent scene is turned inside out by Haneke so that the violence you do see becomes unreal. Haneke not only breaks the rules of horror films but also that of movies in general.
Haneke is not about quick edits or about trying in vain to get the audience to jump out their seats with false scares or parlor tricks. Haneke scares in a better and smarter way. He merely holds the camera for an extremely long one-shot and simply lets the viewer absorb the implications of what they're seeing or hearing.
Haneke doesn't use a musical score, a technique copied in the Oscar-wining No Country for Old Men (2007). Haneke is the king of contrasts. A brutal beating, for example, is contrasted with bird's chirping. Three white, smiling faces are contrasted with devilish lyrics to a soundtrack song.
Michael Pitt alongside Brady Corbet resurrects the same Leopold & Loeb, polite charm, as the two sociopaths manipulate the wealthy family of three, but also the movie-viewing patrons. They philosophize over transcendental issues while they're breaking bones with golf clubs and wondering if the wife has jelly roll-looking fat on her body.
Naomi Watts and Tim Roth deliver truly frightened performances, which have you on the edge of your seat. Both, however, are trumped by the acting of 12-year-old Devon Gearhart, who masterfully portrays their son named Georgie.
Gearhart's look of terror, especially during the cat-in-a-bag scene will stay with you long after the headache-inducing, heavy metal credits roll. Also, look for Gearhart this fall in Clint Eastwood's period thriller, The Changeling.
By the way, all of the horror in this film is over a carton of eggs, which again simplifies the motives of his villains, but drives home the meaninglessness of these movies Haneke criticizes.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated R for terror and some language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 47 mins.