Michael Haneke’s 1997 Funny Games was one of those films you can watch, respect, even admire, and never, ever, want to see again. Unpleasant, tedious, and not the least bit entertaining, the film worked solely as an intellectual exercise that played on audience expectations of a would-be thriller.
Conceptually, it was brilliant; sitting through it was another matter altogether. So what do we have here, eleven years later? Haneke’s Funny Games U.S. is a scene-for-scene, shot-for-shot, word-for-word remake that is essentially the exact same film with new actors and English-language dialogue.
While in some ways a better film, it feels like an entirely pointless and unnecessary exercise for anyone who has seen the original. Does Haneke have anything new to say here? He’s too good a filmmaker not to…
Ann (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) have just arrived at their isolated Long Island summer home with young son Georgie (Devon Gearhart) in tow. A knock at the door brings polite young Peter (Brady Corbet), supposedly staying with some neighbors, requesting to borrow some eggs to bake a cake. Ann gives him some, which he accidentally drops, supposedly, when the family dog accosts him.
He borrows some more eggs, and breaks those, and soon his polite young friend Paul (Michael Pitt) is at the house trying to explain the situation. There’s something off about these two, well-dressed, white-gloved pseudo-Ivy Leaguers, but they’re polite enough, and George and Ann try to accommodate them up to a point.
After that point, things devolve into some agonizing physical and mental torture. While the first two-thirds of the film follow a traditional thriller setup, the fourth wall is unconventionally broken and we realize this is not a thriller, but an intellectual exercise that challenges what we expect from those films.
You will not enjoy watching this film, but you will react to it, and think about it afterwards, and maybe discuss it the following day. That’s the value of this movie, and yeah, you might appreciate it but you might also hate it with an unrivaled passion.
If you’ve seen the earlier film, almost nothing has changed. It’s the same script, with the same dialogue. Though the setting has changed to Long Island, the same sets are employed; IMDb informs me that the production crew used the blueprints from the 1997 film in creating the house in which most of the story takes place.
Each and every shot in the film looks the same, with one major difference: the use of color, which was presented in realistic, harsh, contrasting tones in the original is given a muted, pastel makeover here that feels more appropriate and underlines the idyllic setting that is about to be violently uprooted.
The actors, of course, are different, and I feel the acting here is uniformly superior to the 1997 film. Watts and Roth are both terrific performers, and create richer, more detailed characters here than I took from the original film: Watts a stronger-willed heroine, Roth a weaker husband. The villains are also scarier. Pitt is enormously menacing as the main heavy, while Corbet is something of a revelation as the more introverted sidekick who is nevertheless just as terrifying.
It is impossible to ‘rate’ this movie. Viewers with an open mind who haven’t seen the original might appreciate it. I did not enjoy this film, even on an intellectual level; at times, it felt like a lecture I had already attended. Still, it’s impossible to dismiss so easily.
Filmmakers like Haneke and Gus Van Sant are good at what they do; too good, I feel, to create these unpleasant shot-for-shot remakes without some deeper value behind them. Van Sant’s Psycho was so appallingly awful, such an insult to Hitchcock, that I like to tell myself it was actually a desperate plea against remakes in general. But I’m not so sure that’s entirely correct.
Haneke did manage to provoke me here: this is an exact copy of the earlier film, and I knew exactly what was going to happen, and yet I so desperately did not want those things to happen.
I felt sympathy for these characters, I did not want bad things to happen to them, and most of all, I did not want them to be turned into pawns in Haneke’s intellectual experiment. Watching this movie is an agonizing exercise in futility that calls into question the very nature of remakes. For that I can applaud the filmmaker.