With the massive critical success of 2005’s Cache, Michael Haneke’s star rose considerably. The Austrian provocateur earned himself a level of mainstream recognition rather at odds with the unflinching violence of his early, brazenly polemical films. This in mind, it seems a curious next move for the director to set about remaking in English, shot-for-shot, his highly controversial 1996 flick Funny Games.
The simple plot will strike a chord with fans of ‘torture porn’, that maligned horror subgenre that stagnates a little more every time they wheel out another episode in the Saw franchise. A well-to-do middle-class family (a frequent touchstone in early Haneke) sets out for some r n’ r at their idyllic lake house. A pair of polite young men visit, on the pretence of borrowing an egg, and set about invading the house and terrorising the young family through a series of murderous ‘games’. In the hands of your average Hollywood hack you’d have a pretty average thriller, and that’s sort of the point. Haneke lures the viewer in with comfortably familiar set-pieces and then goes about dismantling every rule of the genre. It’s ultraviolent (both on and offscreen) and none-too-subtle, but it’s a memorable experience, if nothing else.
Haneke took good advantage of his new-found clout as a director to rope in an impressive cast for the remake and Tim Roth and Naomi Watts do a convincing job as a suburban couple facing escalating terror, while Michael Pitt brings the requisite creepiness to his role with interest. The casting, though, is the only major difference between the original and English-language versions of Funny Games and it’s testament to Haneke’s vision that, with excessive, formulaic violence still a staple of mainstream cinema, his bleak masterpiece has lost none of it’s relevance.