Film: Videowatch

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The Independent Culture
Funny Games (18), to buy, pounds 15.99

THE FABRICATION and consumption of screen violence are the underlying subjects of Michael Haneke's brutal psychological thriller. And I mean thriller, and not polemic, because the Austrian director is careful to embed his self-reflexive flourishes in a compellingly nightmarish scenario.

The well-to-do Schobers - husband, wife and young son - are interrupted on arriving at their country retreat by a pair of polite young men claiming to be on an errand for a neighbour. They then hold the family hostage and bet them that, after a harrowing night of "games", the Schobers will all be dead by the morning.

Haneke doggedly forestalls the conventions an audience would expect of a typical Hollywood film: all but the mildest violence occurs off-camera, the victims are completely helpless throughout and, most notably, one of the killers addresses the camera in knowing asides.

Haneke's real target would appear to be the audience: our contradictory revulsion towards and complicity in what we're continuing to watch.

But his argument is blunted by its circularity and, more to the point, his brilliantly detached execution of the bourgeoisie's worst possible nightmare.

Psycho (15), to rent

THE WORD "remake" hardly does justice to Gus Van Sant's resuscitation of this great thriller. Shooting with the same screenplay, script and score as Hitchcock, Van Sant actually differs from the original in a number of interesting ways.

Most obviously, this Psycho is in colour. The casting, too, marks a deviation. Anne Heche is a breezier Marion Crane and, along with Julianne Moore as her abrasive sister, represents a more assertive female presence than that of Janet Leigh and Vera Miles. Vince Vaughn's Norman Bates is a mixture of Nineties camp and a pale imitation of Perkins's untouchable hamminess. Private eye Arbogast is given the most faithful restoration by William H Macy who, like Heche, envisions a fleeting montage of enigmatic images at the point of death - another of Van Sant's additions.

However, these departures are too tentative to amount to anything other than exceptions to the rule - the better, perhaps, to see the Master beneath. If that's the case, Van Sant needn't have bothered to tinker with the 1960 film. Although competently Xerox'ed, as drama it droops besides its twin and as a meta-discursive reflection on Hitchcock, the recent wave of Hitchcock-inspired art is more searching.