Funny Games [1997]

It is impossible to have a neutral opinion about the Austrian thriller Funny Games--a movie so relentless in its ability to shock that it gained pariah status on the film festival circuit in 1997. In the warped tradition of A Clockwork Orange, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and Blue Velvet, this is a film--directed with electrifying audacity by Munich-born Michael Haneke--that addresses the controversy of screen violence by making the viewer as guilty as the Leopold and Loeb-like killers who terrorize a young family of three during their summer vacation. They arrive as friendly neighbors, seducing the family with phony congeniality, but soon Funny Games reveals its devious strategy, turning savage and appalling... and completely captivating for those who can endure the terror. There's actually less violence than you'd see in a typical American horror flick such as Scream, but Haneke's forceful staging effectively fulfills his agenda of viewer complicity; we vividly experience this doomed family's fate and feel helpless to save them. So helpless, in fact, that Haneke dares to offer a hint of respite by giving a victim the upper hand, only to "replay" the same scene with the darkest of outcomes. Funny Games is guaranteed to outrage some viewers with its manipulative schemes, but there's no denying the film's visceral impact, generated by Haneke's expert handling of a superior cast. Don't even think of allowing anyone under age 17 to watch this film; all others should proceed with caution. --Jeff Shannon

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