Austria’s king of pain, Michael Haneke, has remade his own 1997 home-invasion thriller with Hollywood actors, preserving every chilly composition and scalpel-like edit as if to say, “I got it right the first time.” Even if you ignore the self-fellating pretension of such an exercise (not to mention Haneke’s sad squandering of his own stateside momentum post-Caché), a small fact niggles. Funny Games wasn’t so perfect to begin with. Even in 1997, it felt didactic: Here is the pretty white gate that a rich family will glide by to their summer house. Here are the shiny golf clubs, sure to become weapons. The killers are preppy teenage brats; one talks right to the lens like Ferris Bueller. Aggressively, Haneke lets us know they have no motive. You want to scream—not at the violence but at the archness.
And still, the “new” Funny Games has a certain cool, academic appeal, probably more so for comparative viewers. Lord knows why Naomi Watts would want to executive-produce a movie in which she’s beaten, stripped and debased, but her performance is a live wire of fear. The way the original’s Susanne Lothar wailed “I love you” to her hobbled husband was heartbreaking; Watts’s hushed whispering of the line connotes a strange sense of shame. (Has any actor subverted these words more?) Darius Khondji, the cinematographer of Seven, imports a palpably humid Long Island mustiness to Haneke’s frame; the film is shot on location. But these are creative exceptions in a sour project that defines anti-imaginative. Funny games, indeed.
Cast and crew