Funny Games US
The conventional thinking about shot-for-shot remakes is why bother? We only need cast our minds back to the furore surrounding what many thought to be the sacrilegious and pointless remake of Psycho by Gus Van Sant.
Austrian auteur Michael Haneke’s decision to remake, shot-by-shot, his riveting and tortuous postmodern 1997 thriller Funny Games is, however, a different matter. Originally made ten years ago in his home country of Austria (when and where it starred the late Ulrich Mühe of The Lives of Others), Haneke says he always envisaged his film – about a pair of preppy pretty boys terrorising a middle-class family in their holiday home – taking place in America. Now, having achieved wider acclaim with masterfully made films such as Code Unknown, The Piano Teacher and Hidden, Haneke has found himself able to make an English language, America-set version of the feature that put his work on the international movie map.
Certainly, the comfortable, conventional and insular lives of the arrogant strain of America’s middle-classes is perfectly suited to the protagonists of Haneke’s nightmare scenario, a family of three (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth and Devon Gearheart), holidaying in their Long Island lake house. Likewise, the sociopath antagonists, Paul and Peter (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet), who come across as a couple of bored kids looking for kicks, hold a mirror up to wealthy America’s spoilt, morally bankrupt brats. And the ‘funny games’ – humiliation, torture, murder – with which Paul and Peter terrorise Ann, George and little Georgie speak of a nation riddled with violence, from Columbine to Guantanamo Bay.
Haneke’s second shot at what’s essentially an interrogation of the relationship between violence and voyeurism remains wholly engrossing and deeply shocking, especially if you haven’t seen the original film. If you have, and you’re prepared for the nasty twists and turns of the plot, Funny Games US is still a disturbing experience. While it couldn’t be called an enjoyable one, there’s much to admire in Haneke’s consummate skill at evoking not just Hitchcockian suspense, but beyond that a palpable sense of dread. Finally, for those who clearly recall the first film, the second is in effect a palimpsest. Watching two such disturbing films at once is a strange and horrifying experience indeed.
Selected release from Fri 4 Apr.