I don’t think I’ve encountered a director who can more thoroughly creep me out than Michael Haneke. It’s not that he’s scary, it’s just that he sets me on edge, like a razor, and then never lets me off it. Probably the finest example of this, outside Cache, is Funny Games, the film that really put him on the world stage and made him a director to watch. The film details a well-to-do family who, upon being visited by the two young neighboring men Paul and Peter, become hostages to their will and are forced to play, to the boys, the titular funny games to survive.
The games the two young men play aren’t just on our poor protagonist family; they are also on us, the audience. The film goes about its business, setting up the plot and the dynamic between the family and the two young men, and then suddenly, almost innocuously, while keeping the mother busy with a childish game, Paul turns and looks directly into the camera, and winks. He sees us. He knows we’re watching. And part of the fun of his games is to see how far we are willing to go with him as unwitting participants. The film even further toys with, if not outright obliterates, the notion of the fourth wall; I won’t spoil it here, but it is something you have never seen done in a film before, at least to my knowledge of films, and it truly makes the film what it is.
What happens in this film is given no context, no meaning is explained. It simply is, and it is what it is; senseless, and beyond comprehension. We empathize with the family just because we are meant to, and the fourth-wall-breaking context is meant to get us to realize this; this is truly one of the most meta films I have ever personally witnessed, and I couldn’t have liked it more, not because of the violence, but because of how it plays with conventions so easily and manipulatively, yet never once feels like it is going too far. Haneke handles his material with expert fingers; this really feels like true craftsmanship, even when the film is blatantly flaunting its rule-bending and unexpectedness right in your face (the heavy metal music abruptly cutting into the opening credits is a prime example). This is one hell of a film, plain and simple, and for what it does, I took a lot out of it, and I can only hope you will do the same if you give this one a chance.
Arbitrary Rating: 9/10