Very few psychological thrillers have the raw power and great performers as those found within Funny Games from 1997. I am unclear whether to call this film a horror movie or not but it contains all of the elements most modern horror films lack: suspense, terror, real human horror, phenomenal acting and a real life, nightmare situation.
The film starts with a vacationing family visiting a scenic lake house. A young man, Peter (Frank Giering), dressed all in white, shows up at their kitchen door asking to borrow some eggs. Though the young man seems completely ordinary at the outset, his lingering presence, quite demeanor and gloved hands give away that something is not quite right. Then his counterpart, Paul (Arno Frisch), shows up and the stage is set for a tense, increasing sadistic set of questions and mind games.
The two antagonists in Funny Games are not out for blood like your “normal” sociopaths in horror films. These two twisted individuals enjoy and relish the power they wield over their prey. Controlling their captives, getting them to do their bidding against their will, whether it be a little or a large task, is what the two are after. What is remarkable is that they are able to achieve this goal unbeknownst to the family during the earlier egg scenes. Perhaps this was a test of their pliability and susceptibility. Maybe if the mother, Anna (Susanne Lother), had failed this test, the antagonists would have left them alone and chosen a different family to play with and torture.
Like any good horror/suspense movie, the unexpected happens, but in Funny Games, it happens in droves. It’s these events that make the film memorable. One of these instances, a “reversal”, is probably unlike anything the viewer has seen before outside of the beginning sequence in The Rules of Attraction. The viewer may question its inclusion in the film but it does serve to further set Funny Games apart from other horror films, whether it was for the benefit or detriment of the film.
Many viewers may be reminded of Haute Tension because of Funny Games’ centricity around its protagonists, their plight and emotional state during an unimaginable situation they are being forced to endure. The viewer sees their emotion, feels their pain as they suffer, making Funny Games one of best acted horror films ever made, placing it in the ballpark of Aliens and The Exorcist but no where near their infield.
Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is a very memorable horror film in possession of many of the structural elements sorely missed in horror films these days. The antagonists are monsters but not outwardly so like Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers or Leslie Vernon. Their blackness is on the inside like Hannibal Lecter’s, making them and Funny Games far more intriguing.