a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

"Funny Games" Hurt My Brain

So I watched FUNNY GAMES on DVD; it's a recent remake of a 1997 Austrian film of the same name.

The original is supposed to be pretty good, which probably explains how they lured Tim Roth and Naomi Watts to star in this, as a couple menaced by a pair of preppy sociopaths.

The movie remake does a few things right, but basically it's a bit too nihilistic and one-note to really work well; it would be a classic case of torture-porn, except most of the real violence occurs offscreen.

The first thing ironically worth mentioning is that, in God apparently responding to my last post about cellphones, this film actually does a good job with the whole cellphone thing.

Here, early on, one of the sociopaths "accidentally" knocks Naomi Watts' cellphone into a sink full of water, disabling it. Later on, as Watts and Roth try to dry it out to get it to work, their obsessive use of a hair dryer makes for a fairly good sequence. It feels real, as does most of the movie, for better or for worse.

Unfortunately, there's one jaw-dropping moment that doesn't feel real, that really inspired this post.

With about 20 minutes to go, and the violence escalating, Naomi Watts has a familiar thriller moment in which she is able to get her hands on a shotgun, and kill one of the bad guys.

Go Naomi.

Unfortunately, the surviving bad guy reaches into a chair, pulls out a remote, REWINDS THE MOVIE WE ARE WATCHING, and stops her from grabbing the shotgun, saving his friend. WTF?

Seriously. This happens.

Nowhere else in the movie (except for a few places when one of the sociopaths stares at or talks to the camera) is there any sense that this has any fantasy aspect to it at all; indeed, as mentioned, it's all very creepy-realistic.

Nowhere after this moment do the characters discuss what happened, or explain the remote, or use it again.

I suppose if writer/director Michael Haneke (remaking his own movie) had done a commentary, he might have tried to explain how it was a nod to the complicity of the audience in watching all the violence and blah blah blah.

It doesn't matter. It's a stupid device, that pulled me out of the film. It subverts the logic of the movie and makes me dislike it all just a little bit more.

One for my imaginary file of THINGS YOU DON'T DO IN A MOVIE.


At 2:52 PM, Blogger Matt said...

I haven't seen the remake, but I love the original. Love it. Including that scene you mentioned. I'm not gonna lie, I don't entirely understand what he meant by using that device.

I did understand why the characters would look at us, the audience. But even without understanding it, I love it. It's a punch in the gut, as is the whole film. This movie isn't for everybody though. Mainstream audiences need not apply. That's not an insult.

But this is a film of extreme artistic merit and brilliance, and if you're not used to seeing films like this, it'll throw you off.

At 3:06 PM, Blogger Tavis Sarmento said...

I haven't seen either versions, but when I first heard about the remote control scene I thought, "fuck yeah-- that sounds awesome!" I love movies that mess with your mind and expectations. However, I also find when a movie doesn't follow its own logic that I get very frustrated. Perhaps the logic of "Funny Games" is following is not the logic of most "suspense thriller" movies. I can see where not knowing can cause disconnect.

At 3:21 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Hey, I like artsy films as much as the next film lover.

Maybe the problem is that too much of the remake just feels like a dumb b-movie thriller, and not like a "film of extreme artistic merit", so the device feels even more out of place.

At 4:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Came close to renting this one a few times, but it looks kind of boring.

At 6:26 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Scott, isn't "Funny Games" all about watching Naomi Watts run arround in her underwear for 2 hours? Other than that, NO appeal for me. I did watch Wilson/Beckensdale scurry about in a motel for 2 hours in "Vacancy." The two movies SEAM very simuliar -- except for Naomi Watts running arround in her underwear.

Scott, just got the new edition of "Creative Screenwriting." In it Jim Ciriele reports that the spec. buisness is booming. Anything extra to add to that?

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 12:37 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Vacancy and Funny Games seem similar? You continue to outdo yourself, E.C.

They are nothing alike. I've only seen the original version, but it's also anything but boring. I don't remember the last movie I watched that had me so nervous, so uncomfortable, so on the edge of my seat and not in a cliche way. I was literally angry and disturbed by what I was watching. I only hope the remake is as good.

I don't know how you can compare this to a torture porn film though. I have yet to make it through Hostel on three tries, and the first saw film just had me howling with laughter at how bad it was. This movie I suppose could be mental/emotional torture porn, and that's much more effective.

I need to rent the remake to see if it really is like a bad b-movie. I can't believe he would screw up a shot for shot remake of his own film.

At 7:07 AM, Blogger Joshua James said...

I saw the original and hated it, hated it . . . allegedly that scene with the remote was all about denying the audience the release they crave via violence . . . so in other words, since we want Naomi (I haven't seen the remake, but it's the same director and supposed to be very close to the same) to cut loose with some ultra-violence on her captors, we the audience are just as bad as the two guys in white . . . we love our violence on TV, as long as it happens the way we want it to, and when it doesn't, we reach for the remote.

I don't know about the remake, but in the original the two fellas spoke to the cameras and included us in on their experiment . . . so it wasn't ALL the way out of the blue for the remote moment.

But man, I hated that movie. I got what it was about, but I hated it anyway.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Emily Blake said...

Run, Lola Run did that very well and that was a great movie. But it was also a consistent element in the movie because it was established early so every time it happened it made sense.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger Matt said...


I bet you hated the ending of No Country for Old Men as well. If I'm wrong about that I'll be shocked. Let me know.

Funny Games ain't for everybody, it's too good for that.


Watch Funny Games. At least the original. My guess is you'll like it. Don't judge it based on the opinions of people that were not the target audience.

You're not meant to ENJOY the film the way you do other films. I suspect Joshua had the reaction he was supposed to have, but he chose to hate it for all the same reasons that many love it. It is a hard movie to watch, the opposite of escapist fun, and they do make the audience almost feel like we're a part of what they're up to.

I felt dirty watching it, but it's one of the better movies I've ever seen.

At 12:59 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Just for fun I found the old post on here about No Country and it turns out I was wrong, Joshua seemed to like No Country.

Fair enough. But I still think this film isn't for people used to watching only mainstream films.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Joshua James said...

I did love No Country, as you noted, but I fail to see if I hadn't what that would have proved about FUNNY GAMES working or not working . . . and regardless, I didn't see the remake, I saw the original. I can only comment on that.

A much better film is the French movie A Friend Like Harry -

Which has more more complexity, I think.

At 3:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funny Games is an art film. Hence the fuckery. Embrace it.

EC, you're a moron.

At 8:58 PM, Blogger robotdog said...

not only do the antagonists hint several times in the movie that there is something funky going on, but they really dive into it after that scene...

i mean, scott, how could you have not had your "get ready for the crazy" radar go off when they turned to camera and asked if you thought they were going to get away with it....

i hardly think the remote was out of the blue after that...

At 11:38 PM, Blogger Matt said...


Because No Country For Old Men had a twist that mainstream audiences, meaning people used to the normal storytelling techniques, didn't get. And I think those people, if they would even venture out to see Funny Games, would hate this device.

Either way, it works.

At 6:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

also it was curious as to his analogy with the Nascar race being on the TV and us just sitting there watching Naomi try to get to her feet, only to shut the TV off... man, I could have cooked a 4 course meal during that scene

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Joshua James said...

But No country DIDN'T have a twist in that was similar to FUNNY GAMES . . .


NCFOM, they killed their protagonist, and that's hardly the first film to do that. And there is some debate about whether they even did that, if you look on the film as having Tommy Lee as the protagonist . . . regardless, it ended like many an independent film (which it was) with the bad guy getting away.

What FUNNY GAMES did is rewind the movie so that the villain doesn't get killed, letting the audience at first have the release of satisfaction and then cruelly taking it away . . .

They are not similar movies, in my mind . . . I wouldn't say that FUNNY GAMES was terribly made, just that I hated in the message it trafficked in and the conclusions it drew about the human condition . . . in a way, it was a forebear of the deluge of torture / snuff porn that would follow in American cinema in the coming decade (the original came out in 97) . . . if anything hurt the remake, other than being a rather hateful movie, is that it came too late for an audience that was now sick of that POV . . .

NO COUNTRY, on the other hand, while being brutal and unforgiving, had a theme and idea behind it about the human condition that resonated with me and obviously with a lot of other viewers . . . the fact that Chigur gets away at the end, bloodied and relentless, supports that and wasn't done simply for affects sake.

So I guess you can say, I don't think the two movies are similar. I can appreciate some folks like / admired FUNNY GAMES, but it's the type of film I hate . . . and it had nothing to do with the twist.

And hey, I get some films can be brutal.

The Korean film AUDITION was an eerie and terrifying film for a lot of reasons . . . I wouldn't say it was bad, just not for me. But I think that what it puts the viewer through is earned, whereas in FUNNY GAMES, it's not, it's a joke on the viewer.

And I found it less than amusing.

At 3:34 PM, Blogger Matt said...

I don't think it's a joke on the viewer at all. I guess that'd be the difference. I did like Audition though.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Bottom line for me I guess is that it violates the rules of filmmaking in a way that completely took me out of the movie.

It was particularly jarring, because the move is such a chilling in-the-moment, this-could-happen-to-you thriller at that point that when it happened, it undercut all that for me.

I don't mind weird stuff in a movie, when it works. There's a David Lynch movie (Lost Highway?) where in the middle of the movie a character called his house, and the character answers. But it worked.

Here, not so much, not for this kind of movie. In my opinion.

At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Didn't work for me as well. But, meh, the whole movie didn't work for me. I found it to be cheap, trying hard to deliver a message that could have been delivered in a preachery title card appearing on screen after any random violent movie.

Also I found the way of remaking shot by shot pretty dull.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger The Scribe said...

Hey, it worked in Spaceballs!

So of course it can work in any film, regardless of genre, and ...

oh, screw it. No it can't.


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