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Fringe Report is now closed. Fringe Report closed on its 10th anniversary, Thursday 12 July 2012. It remains online as a record of 10 exciting years in the arts. Till July 2013, previously unwritten content is being added to the site from the past 10 years, but we are no longer reviewing new material. You can still write to us on the existing email addresses. Good luck with your shows.Funny Games (2007)
Verdict: Rivetting story of unrelenting cruelty
When wife and husband Ann (Naomi Watts) and George Farber (Tim Roth), their perhaps 8-year-old son Georgie (Devon Gearhart), and playful retriever/labrador Lucky (Lucky), drive up to their luxurious holiday home, they shout a greeting from the car to friends and neighbours Fred (Boyd Gaines) and Eve Thomson (Linda Moran). They're mildly surprised that Eve and Fred are reticent, even a little unfriendly, and that they have a stranger with them.
The holiday homes are built on the shores of lake, and Ann & George have towed their yacht from their city home. George and Tom prepare the yacht. Fred arrives with the stranger to help them. The stranger is Paul (Michael Pitt). Fred says Paul's father is a business associate, and Paul calls him Uncle Fred. Paul is beautiful and full-lipped, a tall blonde-haired young man who wears white shirt, shorts and gloves.
In the house, Ann unpacks food. There's a knock on the door and Peter (Brady Corbet) arrives. He's beautiful, full-lipped, a medium-height blonde-haired young man who wears white shirt, black shorts and white gloves. Peter says that Mrs Thomson has sent him to borrow eggs.
This is the beginning of an extraordinary battle of mental bullying and humiliation that forms the central muscle of Funny Games, an unusual, original and completely rivetting story of unrelenting cruelty. It's a very subtle film. It involves real horror - all human-inflicted, nothing supernatural - and extreme violence. But one of its cleverest facets is that hardly any actual violence is shown on the screen. Instead it uses taut story-telling - a narrative that at each crossroads turns for the worse - and a relentless building of tension to create a real sensation of terror. It is a very frightening film, but perhaps more cleverly, it is intensely pessimistic - and therefore awfully believable. There's a feeling of being soiled by a touchable evil, made the worse because it is contained within two human beings.
Ann hands the eggs over. She has a thought - how did he get in? - the gate is locked. Through a hole in the hedge, says Peter. He drops her mobile phone in the sink-water - clumsy? - and the eggs on the floor; and asks her - isn't she going to clean them up? Ann wonders exactly what's happening. George arrives and loses his temper with the young men (Paul has arrived too). It's the trigger for violence. First it's with a golf club: on George, (and dog-lovers may want to close their eyes concerning Lucky). Peter and Paul have the cornered family under their control and ponder - how trim does Ann's body look naked?
Three friends arrive by boat - red-haired Betsy (Siobhan Fallon), Robert (Robert LuPone), Betsy's sister-in-law (Susanne C Hanke). Peter, Paul and the captive family go out to greet them, and the new arrivals sail away again. Potential rescuers, but the family daren't say a thing - just as, they now realise, Fred and Eve daren't speak earlier. And what has happened to Fred and Eve? And their child?
It's not possible to say much more about Funny Games without telling its plot, and this is one film where the plot, its immense subtlety and the mind-games that drive it, are the essence. It depends on remarkable performances from the actors playing the central four characters - Ann, George, Paul, Peter. Naomi Watts delivers Ann as strong and fallible, a woman with courage and fear, trying to endure while facing terrible loss - it's a superbly-judged performance of remarkable acting: powerful, graceful. Tim Roth makes the reversals of George - fighting from what becomes a disabled and metaphorically emasculated father and husband for his and his loved ones' survival - a fine study in the emotions when there is no physical way of fighting back. Michael Pitt (Paul) and Brady Corbet (Peter) deliver intricate individual performances, and a powerful double-act. Their seeming physical resemblance - as if they were brothers - isn't actually a strong resemblance, but they make it so by the way they respond to each other. They continually feed the flow of violence to each other, becoming at times almost one person - seeming to merge into each other. Each is able to use calm delivery, and the contrast of sudden extreme cruelty, to rake tension up to the maximum.
The last stages of the film are, in story-telling terms and enjoyment of the film itself, extremely well-crafted (story and direction are by Michael Haneke). They don't follow a conventional route of redemption, and if it were real-life, it would be utterly awful. But it isn't. It's a film, an entertainment, and the build to the end, and the end itself, work exactly within the frame that the story establishes for itself. Funny Games is not perhaps a film for those who would like to believe the world is good (nor for dog-lovers). But for everyone else - it's pretty damned good.
IMDB Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0808279/ plus - Lucky the dog (Lucky)
reviewed Monday 15 October 07 / National Film Theatre - NFT - Press Preview - 10:30
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