Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Funny Games

At last year's Cannes Film Festival, Austrian auteur Michael Haneke introduced his relentlessly cruel but brilliantly conceived and executed Funny Games as an "anti-Tarantino film." Given Haneke's similar penchant for long takes, off-screen violence, and sadism, this statement is essentially bogus, except to imply that his brutality is meant to punish the audience, not to entertain it. An affluent young family, expecting a nice vacation in its lakeside summer home, is instead subjected to a night of torture and humiliation at the hands of two politely demented neo-Nazi types. When asked why they're doing it, the suave leader responds, "Why not?" The airtight simplicity of Funny Games' set-up is echoed in the purity of its style, as Haneke uses a static camera (one shot is held for 10 minutes) and natural sound to casually heighten the tension and dread. Rather than engage in the satisfying tension/payoff cycles of most modern horror films, Funny Games joins Last House On The Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer in a disturbing sub-genre designed to expose the true nature of violence. Haneke implicates everyone but himself: The sadists are presumably desensitized by the media (they call each other Beavis and Butt-Head); the victims' symbols of wealth (golf clubs, a cell phone, a high-tech security system) are turned against them; and, most pointedly, the audience is indicted for its bloodlust. There's perversity in paying admission to get harshly scolded, and Funny Games is not for the squeamish, but this may be one time to step up and take the licking you deserve.

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