In a must-read profile of Austrian director, Micheal Haneke, NY Times columnist John Wray writes, "[t]he experience of watching Funny Games is not unlike watching
snuff-porn clips late at night in your bedroom, only to have your
mother or Jacques Lacan switch the light on periodically without the
slightest warning." That may read like fatuous hyperbole, but if you’ve seen the original film, you’ll at least appreciate the effort.
Having seen it several times, I am increasingly suspicious of the the politically weighted theoretical justifications routinely deployed in defense of Haneke’s precisely calculated, genre-deconstructing denial of catharsis. The safely subversive reading portrays Haneke as a deft manipulator of
cinematic convention, which is true enough, sans the moral gloss. While it is invariably excused and discussed as a socially necessary work of intellectual provocation, Funny Games is better appreciated, I think, as an undiluted expression of nihilism, and contempt. When Haneke announces that he is "trying to rape the viewer into independence," he’s only telling half the truth.
In her excellent study, Offensive Films, anthropologist cum film critic Mikita Brottman reads Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as a film in which "a sustained inversion of the symbolic rituals and motifs of the fairy tale creates an apocalyptic narrative of negativity and destruction, wholly unredeemed by any single element of plot, mood or characterization." The postmodern misdirection may provide safe cover, but I think Funny Games yields to essentially the same transgressive MO. Which may be why it stands as one of the most effective horror films ever made. I’m looking forward to the American remake; with the high-minded pretexts so well rehearsed, Haneke can pretty much do anything he wants.