5 September 2011

Ally's Review: Funny Games

I was very much looking forward to getting Horror Club back up and running for our third season. Then we put the DVD in and I remembered how much of a mental and physical toll a horror film can take on you. When Clarky told us that he had lined up an Austrian psychological horror to launch the 2011/12 season I knew I wasn’t in for a comfortable evening... and so it proved.

To give a brief synopsis, the film starts with a young Austrian family driving to their summer house on the lake. As they begin to get settled in they are visited by 2 friendly, but rather odd, young men. Soon they become uncomfortably weird and then the film focuses on the intense psychological, and physical, torture that the family is subjected to. Yep... just another light, frothy watch at horror club. I was hoping to be eased back into things before the more full-on stuff, but Clarky had other plans. Cheers, Clarky.

(First a warning - it’s impossible to review this one without veering into spoiler territory, so keep that in mind.)

The first thing I feel needs to be mentioned about this film is that the acting on display is absolutely first rate. The suffering of the family is astonishingly realistic. Maybe too realistic, as it becomes very difficult to watch their shattered faces go through such an ordeal. But I have to say that the acting might be up there with the best I’ve seen in any horror film. The two standout performances are from the mother of the family and the lead villain. There have been very few horror bad guys that I have hated as much. He oozes self-assuredness, far from showing a shred of empathy for his victims he positively revels in the twisted game he has constructed. It is a brilliant piece of acting to create a character that the audience can despise so viscerally.

What I found difficult was the unflinching tragedy of the events. The audience is given no respite, no revenge and no redemption. The realism is brutal... scenes are deliberately protracted and uncomfortable affairs, and because of the acting - and the complete lack of movie gloss - you feel like you are somehow watching a real event. I think that I found it just a bit too difficult to watch, even though it wasn’t that scary (although there were moments of superbly constructed tension). Nor was it disgustingly violent: indeed we actually see almost no violence whatsoever (we hear it and see the reaction of others instead). So it wasn’t like other, more conventional, horror films. This film was difficult for new reasons, which I admire... but that doesn’t mean that I ‘enjoyed’ it. You can’t really enjoy a film where you watch a twenty minute scene showing a mother and father grunt and cry as they mourn the death of their son. Horror movies push the limits of what you can tolerate, but this scene in particular was over the limit for me. The majority of this film was just about watching suffering... very realistic suffering. Well made point or not (which I will get to in a moment), the facts are that I first and foremost want to enjoy a film on some level, and I struggled mightily with this one.

The part that is clearly the most divisive aspect of the film is this idea of it being an ‘Anti-horror’ movie. It defies the usual trademarks and formula of horror and makes the audience question their participation in the events, and what they want to happen next. Literally... the primary villain asks the audience if the victims have had enough. In this way, it seems that the film wants to provide a type of a social commentary about violence, and more specifically the portrayal of violence in cinema (see Fin’s review for a fuller explanation).

It also purposefully robs the audience of its only satisfying “revenge” moment, and I think how you view this moment may determine how you rate the movie. When it happened I was outraged and immediately compared it to the end of Switchblade Romance. But Clarky pointed out that if it had happened then it would have completely gone against the very thing the director was trying to express to the audience. The satisfying moment was unrealistic, it wouldn’t have happened in real life (it is actually the only violence we see). Instead we see this moment and then the film ‘rewinds’ to show the satisfying moment thwarted. Clarky was right, and I’ve revised my opinion about this pivotal scene, it shouldn’t be linked with the end of Switchblade Romance. It’s a clever film, but I found this device to just be a bit too clever for its own good. I found it too jarring: veering clumsily between ultra realism and the surreal.

I can appreciate what the director was doing on one level, but as I said previously I watch movies to enjoy or get a thrill out of them too. Not only that… I also want to become fully invested and immersed in it, and the director purposefully denied me all these things to hammer home a wider point. It is most certainly a thought-provoking film, one that can be debated and discussed at length, and that is obviously a good thing. I think it will be a film that generates a lot of discussion, so I’m very glad that Clarky brought it to the table. Films that challenge the audience to look at their own participation, and questions what we are watching, are few and far between. However, as much as I admired the film and applaud its originality I just can’t embrace it fully.

An impressive film that showcases some superb talent, and it will probably stay with me for a long time, but it won’t ever be a favourite of mine at Horror Club.


  1. good review a fascinating piece of film but not one that you could ever fall in love with.

  2. Another good review. I think it is interesting to note that these are probably our longest reviews we have written for any film. This may just be a case of first week frenzy, however as you note it is a film that generates discussion.

    After seeing the US version, I had to discuss it with someone and felt that given the end of last season it would be an interesting choice, although maybe not an enjoyable one!

    I have it rated so high because it (I'm kind of marking the US version too) affected me in a way that I just was not expecting, and I have to give it kudos for that.


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