Funny Games, 18

If people tut or storm out, that's all part of the show

In 1997, the Austrian director Michael Haneke gave the film world a nasty turn with Funny Games, a chilly polemic against screen violence. The less you know about Funny Games, the more susceptible you'll be to Haneke's new remake, its shock tactics intended to administer morally bracing medicine. Of course, the content of Funny Games has been public knowledge ever since the audience staggered ashen-faced from its first very Cannes press show. That was surely the optimum time to see Funny Games, when Haneke had his best chance of traumatising an audience that probably expected merely a sombre art-house essay on the woes of the Vienna bourgeoisie.

Following the success of his Hidden, Haneke has remade Funny Games in the US, in English (the first version having been in German). Otherwise he's changed barely a thing, certainly diluted nothing. Funny Games US is a shot-by-shot, virtually breath-by-breath reconstruction of the original. The country house looks exactly the same; even its grounds appear to have been transplanted in one piece to Long Island. The shocks are positioned in the same places; so is the fridge in the kitchen. The look is still clean, clinical, with new cameraman Darius Khondji offering a slightly brighter, but hardly shinier, echo of the 1997 images. Officially, there are three minutes between versions: rumour has it that the actual difference, presumably allowing for credits, is 20 seconds.

It makes sense to consider Funny Games US less as a remake, more as the screen equivalent of a European stage play's off-Broadway transfer: same production, different language, different cast. As the middle-class parents tormented in their holiday home, Suzanne Lothar and the late Ulrich Mühe are replaced by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth. The two clean-cut, polite, opaquely malevolent youths in tennis whites are Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet.

Haneke's premise is this: we unthinkingly relish violent cinema, but if we were forced to contemplate the reality of violence and our own morbid complicity in it, then we might be shamed out of our bad habits. Funny Games graphically depicts a family's suffering, and two ghouls presiding over the horror, seemingly just catering to our own thirst for "entertainment". Haneke is not, as some have suggested, a sadist: he's rubbing our noses in our own sadism. He draws us into the action so that we wince out of empathy for the victims – then pulls back, denying us the expected sentimental gratification. The film distances us with abrupt Brechtian tactics: when Pitt first turns to the camera with a conspiratorial smirk, you feel distinctly queasy.

Haneke's target audience is the American audience that never saw the first Funny Games but – so he claims – urgently needed to. Funny Games US is aimed not at Haneke's art-house following, but at mainstream horror buffs. The hope is that they'll be suckered by the marketing into ingesting Haneke's homeopathic cure for their unhealthy cravings.

That's the theory – and the American critics have decidedly not bought it, taking umbrage at Haneke's know-it-all loftiness. They have a point. Moreover, the new film has its contradictions. The original featured actors little known outside Austria, but it's another thing to cast international stars: while Watts offers a characteristically sharp performance of bare-wires vulnerability, it can't help but carry distracting overtones of her earlier intrepid-woman-in-peril roles.

Above all, you feel that Haneke hasn't kept up on the genre he's attacking. In 1997, Funny Games came across as a critique of the "home invasion" genre: all those films in which peril was brought to the family hearth by demented babysitters, landlords and ex-lovers. Today, Funny Games US seems an inadequate response to the far more extreme, more specialised, arguably more sophisticated new violence of Hostel, Saw and their ilk. Then again, time and geography bring other changes. The Austrian original inescapably read as an allegory of bourgeois collusion with Nazism. In 21st-century America, the hoods on the victims' heads look like souvenirs of Abu Ghraib.

This new overtone aside, Haneke's cloning exercise adds little to a powerful, if contentious, polemic. If you've seen the first Funny Games, the remake isn't intended for you. If you haven't, and can only find the original on DVD, then see the remake on the big screen: it undeniably benefits from cinema viewing, if only because you'll get to see who tut-tuts, or cheers, or storms out. In any case, you're guaranteed a bad time. But a salutary one? That depends on you.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices