I really thought I'd seen everything when it came to films; I remember that the great scandal at the Seattle Film Festival came when Takashi Miike's film "Audition" emptied the house out because it was so graphically brutal. But nothing, including that film, comes close to the horror of the Austrian Michael Haneke's new film "Funny Games," playing now at the AMC in Spokane.
As it happens, "Funny Games" is his shot-by-shot remake of his own film from ten years ago, also called "Funny Games," which he made in German, showed once at the Cannes film festival and made his international reputation with it. Since then he's made some more conventional films: "Time of the Wolf," "The Pianist," and "Caché." I think "Funny Games" is a kind of Nietzschian exercise for Haneke, a film in which utter and absolute evil comes to an unsuspecting American family; and if you ask why, I would answer that it's just because it can, which is what makes it so horrifying.
In fact, the only way I can think of this film and still retain my sanity is to call it an allegory of Hitler. It didn't matter to Hitler if you'd led an exemplary life or if you were a crook; you were going to die at Auschwitz anyway, and along the route to death you might be the victim of one of his doctors, experimenting on you as they did, say squirting acid up your vagina in order to sterilize you. "Funny Games" is that kind of film.
Two young men, in white shorts and white gloves, make their way into the house of Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, and their young son. First they want four eggs, which they drop. Then they slowly take over the house, torturing each family member, playing games as they do. Haneke has given us no explanation for this invasion, he simply wants us to accept that they are there, that they are there to do evil, and that we in the audience are there to watch. The family tries to fight back, but - well, let me leave it there, because the pain and suffering simply grow and grow to an unspeakably brutal climax. A number of critics have found some kind of existential message in the film; I found nothing in it but an ever-escalating horror that Haneke makes us suffer through simply because he can.
Without doubt Haneke is an expert filmmaker; he knows how to make us squirm; how to make us see evil in operation; the question is why, and whether there is anything of merit in what he's done. Normally I would give him the benefit of the doubt; but "Funny Games" is a film with ultimatly no saving grace, no reason to have been made, and surely no reason to see it.