Recently, one of my favorite podcasts, The Faculty of Horror, put out an episode about Michael Haneke’s 1997 film, Funny Games.
This is a movie I’ve been putting off for years. I don’t do well with horror films in the “home invasion” sub-genre, especially since I got married and had kids. It doesn’t help that all the descriptions and synopsis have used the words “torture”, “sadistic”, and “depraved”. But because I enjoy the podcast so much, I really didn’t want to miss an episode, so I finally broke down and watched Funny Games.
Much to my surprise, it really didn’t bother me all that much. I think it helped knowing that the film is a commentary on film itself – more specifically the horror genre. With the main antagonists breaking the fourth wall to literally wink at the audience and sometimes even directly address us, as well as a moment where time winds backwards before our eyes, the whole thing felt very staged and intentional. It didn’t feel like I was witnessing a home invasion as much as I was a scripted performance. This helped me stay detached enough to not feel the same dread and “too close to home” vibe I’d normally get from this type of film.
Even more interesting – ultimately, I didn’t really enjoy it. I know it’s not a “fun ride” type of film to begin with, but even as commentary, I found it sort of trite. Granted, it probably wasn’t 20 years ago, but so many meta films have come out since then, that this one feels a little stale now.
I also didn’t appreciate the way the film talked down to the audience; it really felt like Haneke was judging us the whole time. My problem with that type of preaching is that most viewers of horror films understand the difference between entertainment and reality. We know that horror movies are fake and we’re often the first ones to decry real violence in the real world. So why rub our noses in our shared interest of facing the fears of real violence through the make-believe medium of film? It’s quite smug coming from someone who has made plenty of violent films himself, even going so far as remaking this one shot-for-shot in 2007. It’s an instance where I feel the film says more about the director than it does the audience he is so willing to judge.
There are still a few films out there whose reputation prevents me from watching them (most notably A Serbian Film). But I’m glad I finally got around to seeing Funny Games, if for no other reason than it proves to myself that sometimes the bark really is worse than the bite.