While the criticism director Michael Haneke holds over the American slasher genre and its utilisation of violence may be a tad hypocritical, it is looking into why each artist uses brutality and the effect of it that sets them apart. For Hollywood, it is to entertain, for Haneke, it is to shock and discomfort. Funny Games does just that. It is uncomfortable and sickening, a difficult piece to watch. One that will live or die on how an audience may perceive the act of violence, rather than the fun of exploitation and the broad appeal it can have. Haneke wishes to strip back that appeal, for no reason other than he has a predictable issue with it. Its senselessness.
For meta and fourth-wall-breaking prose to work often, it must either be consistent and interesting or have something to say. Haneke opts for the latter, but never expresses his opinion with evidence to suggest he may be correct. Funny Games is a beautifully crafted film. It has longing shots that portray a morality and style Haneke holds dear and has held dear in his other projects. He does not, however, offer enough risks to reap the reward of laying on his argument thick, fast and in an almost condescending, self-sufficient manner. Sufficiency is fine if there is enough to distribute to both an audience as well as the screenplay, but Haneke has chosen not to offer anything up to an audience that are on the fence. He runs along on the idea that the audience are behind him and his point of view for the whole experience, and that is the lowest blow of all. His lack of appeasement will shun those who do not think in the same vein as him, and he has no expectation or care for those that may disagree with him, stopping himself at using the fourth-wall breaks to call us stupid or cowardly.
But are we as an audience cowardly? It is not the aggression and conniving terror these two psychotic men act upon that I have an issue in seeing. It is meant to be disturbing and does a tremendous job of keeping it that way. What I take issue with is the idea that this is meant to criticise the modern slasher piece. Worst of all, Haneke implies that American slashers are thoughtless. Granted, some of them are, but they have entertainment value. A criticism of amusement and pleasure is no criticism at all, despite how gory and ghoulish it may be to enjoy such events. But it is the thrill, rather than the event, that audiences enjoy. The issue is the morally grey area audiences may not even be aware of. What are their reasons for partaking in such action or terror? With Dressed to Kill or Scream, the violence is conveyed as something good omens must overcome. An innocent life is at risk, and the guilty party are set on wiping out the antonym. With Funny Games, the twisted and sick are planning and plotting to inflict terror on the innocent, but Haneke removes the fight back against the evil and expects the results to be just the same. They are not. They are very, very different.
Hypocrisy runs rampant. So too do useless, boring characters, whose use in this film is nothing more than a thinly veiled and corruptible attempt at criticising a popular genre that far exceeds the quality found here. Haneke is a superb director, there is no denying that, but he has missed the mark with this one. Not just in context and reasoning, but in story and ethics too. I find myself agreeing more with the initial Austrian critics who voiced their hesitations around Funny Games, not of its hyperviolence, but of its desire to criticise. Haneke does not offer an alternative; merely highlights something he deems a problem and moves on as if his job were done. Far from it. I suppose that’s one of the reasons he remade it a decade later.