Watts Up, Naomi? Beauty Frumps Up for Fright Flick

Running Time 107 minutes
Written by Michael Haneke
Directed by Michael Haneke
Starring Naomi Watts, Tim Roth, Michael Pitt, Brady Corbet

You know what garbage is, but until you see Funny Games, a bucket of swill by Austrian wacko Michael Haneke, you have no idea how bad it can smell. This is the kind of pointless bloodbath nobody ever sees outside of a pretentious film festival; a repellent and totally unnecessary remake, practically scene for scene, of a load of trash first unveiled to hisses and boos at the 1997 Cannes festival. Its commercial prospects were, of course, doomed, since no sane person ever paid money to see it. Except one. Naomi Watts, a lovely and talented actress with a fatal attraction to junk who has already appeared in some of the worst movies ever made, campaigned for Mr. Haneke to reshoot his trash wallow in English with such determination that she executive-produced it herself. Bring a vomit bag.

In Funny Games, a pair of preppy psychos wearing white gloves arrive at the lake cottage of a family of innocent vacationers to borrow eggs, then proceed to drop their cell phone down the sink; kill their dog; blow a child apart with a shotgun; break the father’s legs, arms and kneecaps; and push the mother from a speedboat with a rope around her neck. Occasionally the violence and brutality is reversed with a remote control switch so the audience can see it twice. In the end, they’re arriving at another house in the resort to borrow more eggs, smiling and winking into the camera. No spoilers here; massacring everyone for fun and sport is what the movie is about. You know that going in. It’s the tortures themselves that I will let you discover for yourself. That’s the thing that sinks Funny Games to the abattoir level of the senseless Saw and Hostel dreck. When I first reviewed this assault on decency at Cannes, I described the ending and asked, “A sequel, perhaps?” No, just the same toxic waste all over again. Mr. Haneke has structured his career on this kind of perverted poison. Who could forget Isabelle Huppert in The Piano Teacher, inspecting her mother’s genitalia before taking a single-edged razor blade to her own vagina? The lurid sickness inherent in the director’s perverse desire to shock and repel is grim enough, but worse, his movies make no sense. The characters possess no human motivation for the animal cruelty they inflict on others; the plots progress toward Nietzschean nothingness. The point of all Haneke films, and especially Funny Games, is adolescent enough to be both nasty and stupid at the same time. Violence, the director insists, is everywhere, based on ugliness and cynicism and waiting to attack us without reason. All we have to do is show up.

Subjecting the family to unspeakable humiliations, suffering and degradation only a fool or a masochist would want to sit through, the two soft-spoken sadists seem to be having a good time, but with toothy, prissy-mouthed Michael Pitt as the stronger of the two, it’s hard to tell. “Whether by knife or by gun, losing your life can sometimes be fun,” he leers, dripping drool from his bee-stung lips like a mental patient. After his critical annihilation in Silk, I thought we were rid of him for good. But he’s limped back, like a pink piglet with only one foot intact. His partner in menace, Brady Corbet, is equally incompetent. Mincing, posturing and whining while they slash their way through flesh, turning a beautiful home into a charnel house with rivers of blood streaming down the screen of the television set, they don’t even know enough about acting to make depravity intriguing. Indeed, Mr. Pitt is bad enough to make you wonder if casting couches have made a comeback. As the grown-ups, Ms. Watts and Tim Roth are more convincing, although in their botched attempts to escape, they both seem to be running a bit low on megabytes themselves.

Funny Games is as funny as the final stages of muscular dystrophy. One question diminishes all others: Why? From the press notes handed out at the critics’ screening I attended, I quote: “In the belief that explanation would be reassuring, Mr. Haneke deliberately refuses to provide any.” Then the Austrian himself adds: “I’m trying to find ways to show violence as it really is: it is not something that you can swallow. I want to show the reality of violence, the pain, the wounding of another human being.” And I want to see a tall building fall on Michael Haneke.

Watts Up, Naomi? Beauty Frumps Up for Fright Flick