This is a film I watched and studied as part of my Film Studies course which now seems a lifetime ago but viewing it again, this movie still feels fresh in it’s sadistic manner and ripping apart of the way violence is seen in movies.
Michael Haneke creates a dark twisted but wholly believable story about two young and unknown men who have a penchant for torture in the form of games. The majority of this film settles on one family; a man, his wife and their son, though we realise that their games have already taken place once and will take place again by the end of the film. It’s a circular structure that actually lets the villain win and therefore goes against a lot of tropes in film where the bad guy always has to lose or die. More than this, this film comments on our society and the way we’re prone to accept and view violence as the norm. This is done through numerous moments of breaking the fourth wall, for example where Paul turns to look and then wink at the camera before the discovery of the dog is found. This is a sick but clever way in letting the audience in on the game and in a hugely worrying way placing us on side with the torturers. This is done more than once and Paul is the one in particular who looks at the camera and therefore us as if pulling us into their games. It’s a critique on our acceptance of the shock factor and one stand out moment is when the TV remote is used to rewind a potential act of hope for the trapped family. Now we know that some bigger force is being used to let the bad guys win and the fact we’re still watching is slightly implying our involvement with them and not the tied up victims.
It caused problems and walk outs at the Cannes film festival which you can sort of understand but then when realising the Hollywood comment of violence in movies and its study on our conditioning to revel in it, the people that watched and hated it had no cause to complain as they carried on watching knowing the outcome would be on the side of Paul and Peter. It’s a genius film in building up tension and making us feel complicit in the games going on. It is a unique film in letting us into the action and having the end leave no survivors of the family. It’s the calm way in which the two men in white carry out their plans that cause more concern than anything else as they do treat the whole affair like some mild and fun afternoon game. It’s a shocking but interesting idea and the original stands out so much more than the American version also directed by Haneke. There’s some detail and realness in the 1997 Austrian feature that makes the movie feel more alive and threatening than the shot-for-shot remake of the 2007 one.
I also have to make a note that the acting from all parties involved is fantastic. The two men exude some horrific charm in their performances. Anna – the mother is grief stricken but tries to be strong when left as the only capable one to save the day and the moment of emotion by George – the father is heartbreaking, a touching and awful capturing of a man losing everything and breaking down. They add to the grittiness of this film and make it feel all too real thus a more unnerving atmosphere is generated.
An intelligent film that makes references to formulas and tropes of Hollywood cinema throughout actually using these and then upending them completely to rewrite the code and make a film with a drastically different ending featuring the villains as the heroes of the piece.