Though not traditionally thought of as a horror film, Michael Haenke’s Funny Games is a true horror film. In fact, it is the mother of all home invasion films. The film opens up on a nice happy wealthy Austrian family as they are driving to their summer house with a boat in tow. There is Georg, his wife, Anna, their son, Georgie, and their dog, Rolfi. Along the way they stop outside the gates of their neighbors to say hello. The neighbors stand in the front yard talking with two young men in tennis whites seeming tense and their conversation is stilted and curt. Georg and Anna remark on it as they drive on to the house. They arrive and Anna unloads the car, as Georg and Georgie prepare the boat for sailing.
One of the men in the tennis whites that was seen chatting with the neighbors just minutes before knocks on their door as Anna works in the kitchen and asks to borrow four eggs for their neighbor. She graciously gives him the eggs only for him to promptly drop them before he has even made it out the door. The man apologizes profusely, confessing that he is very clumsy and has two left hands and then asks for four more eggs. Anna gives him four more but is visibly annoyed by the request. As she wraps them up so he can’t drop them again on his way out, he pushes the mobile phone (it’s 1997 mind you) into the sink filled with water, rendering it inoperable. Exasperated, she hands him the wrapped eggs eager to get him out of the house. However, her respite is short lived as she hears Rolfi barking and walks back to the door to find both men now standing inside the foyer as Rolfi barks on the other side of the door, the other four eggs smashed on the ground outside.
Anna apologizes as the other taller, leaner man informs her that, Peter, the one who dropped the eggs, is afraid of dogs. Then he spies Georg’s gulf clubs standing in the hallway and asks Anna if she would find it cheeky of him to test out the driver really quickly mentioning their scheduled golf game with the neighbors the next morning. She shrugs and tells him to go ahead as he reaches in the bag for a golf ball and walks out the door. Meanwhile, Georg and Georgi are at the dock running the rigging for the sail boat as they hear Rolfi in the distance barking excitedly and then abruptly stop. The man comes back and returns the driver to Anna as he tells Peter, whom he is now calling Tom, that he really must try it out. At this point Anna is at the end of her patience with the intrusiveness of the two and asks them both to leave. The lean man responds by asking her for the remaining four eggs. Anna reiterates her request to leave accusing the two of playing games. They feign innocence and insult at her accusation as Georg and Georgie arrive. Pleading their case to Georg, they tell him the events that led to the dropped eggs repeating their request for their four remaining eggs as Anna walks off disgusted. Georg is confused by Anna’s reaction and asks them to leave when, Peter, or Tom, hits Georg’s knee with the driver sending him to the floor.
Hearing the commotion, Anna comes back into the room as the two men command her and Georgie to remain calm. The tall leaner man asks Georg if he is seriously injured and instructs him to call an ambulance if he needs to, or to call the police if he is feeling threatened. He promises that he won’t stop him before Anna solemnly informs him that the mobile was dropped in a sink full of water and is of no use. Smirking, the lean man then says he wants to play a different game, a guessing game, and produces the golf ball from his pocket. He asks them, “Why do II have this golf ball in my pocket?” Tom, or Peter, answers laughing, “Because you didn’t hit it.” The lean man laughs and says, “Exactly,” before asking the family to guess what it was he used to test the driver on. Realizing that Rolfi is dead, Anna asks where his body is. This begins the next round of deadlier games.
The lean man watches Anna searching the yard for Rolfi’s body, only telling her whether she is cold or getting warmer. He then turns and gives a smirk and a wink to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, as Anna opens up the family’s Range Rover and Rolfi’s body falls to the ground. The five of them eventually move to the living room, where the lean man introduces himself as Paul, and begs Georg’s forgiveness for making Peter, or Tom, blow his knee out with the driving iron. Then Paul asks Georg if he would be willing to make a bet. Paul’s bet is that all three of them, Georg, Anna, and Georgie, will be dead by 9 am. The family stares in stunned silence. Paul repeats the bet and Tom, or Peter, states that the family seems unwilling to make that bet. Paul informs them that they have no choice and must accept the wager to help ratchet up the tension as he again breaks the fourth wall by asking the audience if they think all three will survive and are willing to bet with the family.
The mind games become crueler and the physical violence ramps up. At one point, Paul announces that he and Tom, or Peter, are going to leave them alone for an hour in order to give them a sporting chance at surviving the night. However, someone has to die first. Tom, or Peter, holds a hunting rifle as Paul points his finger at each of them in a version of “Eenie, meenie, miny, moe” before stopping on Anna. Paul then asks her for her age but Anna is unresponsive. The two of them debate how old they think she is before settling on the number 37. With that, Peter, or Tom, starts pointing his finger at each of them counting up to 37. Paul gets up and announces he is going to the kitchen to make himself a sandwich as the camera follows him leaving the drama in the living room behind. He calls out asking if anyone wants something from the kitchen as a shot rings out, then shouting and the sounds of a struggle are heard, though it is mostly drowned out by the sounds of motocross racing blaring from their TV. The cars sound ominously like angry hornets buzzing.
The scene cuts to a close up of the TV, covered in blood, as you hear the voices of the two arguing briefly before saying their goodbyes, promising to return an hour later to resume the games. Who died is still unrevealed and the tension is almost too much to take. However, the next shot finally reveals who was killed but is a devastating ten minute stationary shot as the two survivors sit in shock before eventually becoming hysterical with grief before struggling to free themselves from their bonds. That scene was easily one of the most gut wrenching 10 minutes I have seen in a movie, second only to Irreversible. It is at this point that the true horror of Funny Games is revealed as the viewer is called out as an active participant in the horror for passively watching.
Later in the film, Paul, speaks to the audience, “You know you want to see this,” before committing yet another terrible act of violence. Funny Games is an unsettling viewing experience as the character Paul refuses to let the audience off the hook, going so far as to blame them for the family’s torture. Instead of killing them off quickly, he explains to them that he has to take his time with them so as not to disappoint the audience because they are “not yet up to feature film length,” before turning to the camera and asking the audience, “Is that enough?” But it isn’t and the film continues. Funny Games is a nasty, brutally visceral film that pulls no punches.
Haenke remade Funny Games for the American cinema in 2007 in an almost shot-for-shot remake. It was even filmed in the same location as the original. Though it is essentially the same movie as the original Austrian film, the remake, to me, seems off. Maybe it is seeing the familiar faces of Tim Roth, Naomi Watts, and Michael Pitt in the roles that diminish the horror of that version for me. I don’t know why exactly that is, but, I do know that the original Austrian version is currently streaming on Netflix and you should watch that. You might even want to make sure all your doors are locked while you watch it. And don’t give any eggs to strangers in tennis whites if they come knocking on your door asking for some.
Dale Rawlings is a writer/illustrator of comics. His work is featured regularly in Magic Bullet, DC’s only all-comics newspaper. He has also illustrated stories for District Comics, Colonial Comics, and Plastic Farm. He is currently producing a weekly satirical webcomic, Jesus 2016, that updates every Tuesday.