A straight cover version of a classic track will nearly always be derided as a terrible affront on the original.
Film remakes fare a little better – especially for those that can benefit from the technological advantages – but for every hit, there’s a plethora of misses. Think Gus Van Sant’s colour Xerox of Psycho, how George Sluizer sold out with the Hollywoodisation of The Vanishing or how Ole Bornedal added Ewan McGregor but somehow lost the eerie atmosphere in a retread of his black horror-comedy Nightwatch.
This year’s Funny Games is closest to Psycho; a near shot-for-shot remake that’s hugely familiar to fans of the original without Sluizer’s bizarre mangling of the plot. From John Zorn’s avant-garde extreme metal soundtrack (the film’s first “What the fuck is this?” moment) to the world’s scariest golf ball, this is as true to the 1997 Austrian original as you could imagine. The famous faces may remove the mystique of subtitles and lack a little of the previously humanistic performances, but that loss is negated by the creation of a more accessible package.
For the uninitiated, Funny Games sees Anna (Naomi Watts), George (Tim Roth) and their son Georgie commencing a holiday break at a remote summer home. When Peter (Brady Corbet), a guest of their neighbours, stops off to ask to borrow some eggs, Anna thinks nothing of it and invites him in. When he’s soon followed by Paul (Michael Pitt), the duo’s cocktail of charm and intrusion soon feels uncomfortable. Taking the family hostage, Paul and Peter conduct a number of sinister parlour games.
Funny Games challenges every expectation of the home invasion genre. The violence is extreme yet almost never directly depicted, the easily forecast plot twists are utterly obliterated and, as our evil protagonists directly address the audience, the expectations of who we should be rooting for are twisted beyond recognition.
Haneke’s point is heavy-handed but still sickeningly fascinating. As an audience, we’ve devoured violence through film for our entire lives and Haneke blurs the boundaries between entertaining fiction and the horrors of the reality of violence for a stunningly intense satire. That it so twists expectations is key and anyone unwilling to accept the film’s swerve on conventions will be alienated by the entire experience.
Like the original, Funny Games represents a near ultimate in challenging cinema. But it works best for newcomers as seeing the story a second time undoubtedly dilutes the film’s gruelling effect.