Ever the confrontational cinematic essayist, Michael Haneke follows up his immensely tantalising masterwork "Caché" in 2005 with a shot-by-shot replica of his 1997 "Funny Games", now technically called "Funny Games U.S.", by way of churlish didacticism. If the German-language original's finger wag wasn't already satisfied aiming its insults at an audience's base urges of bloodlust, then the remake adds an extra soupcon of condescension by basing it in English as its raison d'être - just because Haneke felt that the most uncouth purveyors of movie violence that needed to see his treatise on the audience-filmmaker symbiosis would not respond to European sensibilities. But Haneke's English-language debut is an admittedly intriguing failure, an inconsequential reading on our scavenging voyeurism and isn't so much a lazy remake as it is a rather irrelevant critique on our pop culture fetishes.
In what would be a terrific genre film if it continued to play straight, Haneke presents to us an unsettling premise of a family seized upon by fresh-faced psychopaths in their gated community lakeside vacation home. Like young upstart Ivy League social predators that reflect its Austrian director's own siege on bourgeois precepts, Peter (Brady Corbet) and Paul (Michael Pitt) descend on the unassuming household in tennis whites and ominous white gloves, insinuating themselves into their activities and giddily refusing to leave. The gloved men then hold the family - Anne (a tremendous Naomi Watts), George (Tim Roth), and the young Georgie (Devon Gearhart) - hostage and commence a physical and mental torture game throughout the night that begins Haneke's film thesis on victims and perpetrators and our perceived expectations.
Haneke's breaches an interesting topic of discussion in violence films' latent dissimulation of guilt and sympathy, where we identify with the onscreen viciousness instead of being appalled by it and how it's simply labelled as "entertainment. However high-minded this endeavour to deconstruct these filmic conventions ends up, the film's sole debilitation is Haneke's own love-hate relationship with the idea of sadism. He is as much a product of his own sanguinary environment as he thinks his audience is or will be, but never admits it or turns the finger pointing towards the filmmaker. And because of this, nothing truly gets deconstructed here. We get glimpses of what he's getting at but never anything approaching a penetrative statement and those moments of furtiveness elides the opportunity for authentic discourse.
The points of interest in the film are its visual triggers. They are littered in different scenes throughout the film in key areas that serve to solidify its classification as a meta-thriller. The fourth wall gets broken intermittently, a narrative conundrum out of left field, the conscious redaction of certain images and a subtle paradigm shift are just some of the film's emerging features that alienates the audiences it skewers and subsequently admonishes. It's Haneke's version of the ultimate cocktease - it wants to deny us the pleasure of expectations while showing us the right amounts of leg to keep drawing us into its perverse grandstanding. Is this Haneke's actual funny game? Because curiously enough, the only one who seems to get any sort of onanistic thrill out of this mocking jive is Haneke himself.