As the credits roll, a rich couple and their young son drive through dappled sunlight, looking forward to a leisurely weekend at their lakeside estate - moments of innocent anticipation worth savouring, since they're the only calm you're likely to experience in Michael Haneke's gruelling thriller.
Detailing the sadistic game of cat and mouse practised on the family by a pair of insolent, smiling yuppies, Haneke plays his own nasty games with audience expectations, teasingly refusing the thriller's ritual catharsis of distanced, rationed brutality.
Eschewing the bankrupt pleasures of bloody spectacle, Haneke's drama is more Pinter than Peckinpah, its insidious unease grounded in psychological torture rather than explicit gore. But, if exploits viewers' knowledge of the genre, it does not descend into spoof, managing instead to sustain the necessary credibility to keep tension at breaking point. Deeply uncomfortable to watch, this is a film that pushes the boundaries of taste to the limits, with a power and moral depth of which Tarantino could only dream.
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