A wealthy German family arrives at their lake house for a little vacation. Their lake house is surrounded by large houses inhabited by families whose toughest struggles were no more extreme than choosing the location for their next vacation. The husband, Georg (Ulrich Muhe), and son, Georgie (Stefan Clapczynski), leave to work on the family's boat, and the wife, Anna (Suzanne Lothar), stays to prepare a nice dinner. When quiet, well-dressed Peter (Frank Giering) knocks on the door and asks for some eggs Anna doesn't suspect anything, but when he "accidentally" smashes the eggs and knocks the phone into the sink Anna begins to get flustered. But it is when Peter's friend Paul (Arno Frisch) arrives that the young men's intentions are revealed. They continue to toy with Anna, when Georg arrives and tries to make them leave Peter breaks his leg with one of Georg's golf clubs - thus revealing their intentions.
Michael Haneke's Funny Games has him taking an overused set-up and working it effectively with his style of using themes that are disturbing critiques on society. This film is as good of a home-invasion film that you will see,unfortunately that isn't saying a lot. It lacks all of the essentials to be commercial; the thrills are subtle, the gore is hidden, and the terrors are implied. Haneke toys with us by never giving any satisfaction, his direction tries, and succeeds, at making us feel involved in every moment of the film. We are spectators to all of the terrors and by the end of the film, by being witnesses, we are just as guilty as the two men committing the crimes.
Arno Frisch's performance as the twisted mastermind, Paul, is visceral brilliance. Haneke takes his young star and lets his chilling performance toy viewers. There are at least 4 different moments when the audience is acknowledged, either by a glance or by being directly spoken to, by Paul. The first time Haneke fixes behind Paul where we see his back and we can see Anna desperately searching for their dead dog, Rolfi. As he toys with her by making her look all over the yard Paul suddenly turns to the camera and winks. Late in the film when the conclusion seems all to certain, a moment of hope is destroyed when Paul shows off just how in control of their fates he really is. That all could have been an easily failed attempt to do something original, but how Haneke directs the film in a way that forces us to feel involved this tactic works all too well. When used right, this tactic sent shivers down my spine.
The last leg of Funny Games falters a bit as it shows the lingering pain of Georg and Anna. Haneke takes the subtlety of his film a step too far by slowing down an already slow-paced film. Ulrich Muhe and Susanne Lothar play their respected roles fantastically, their desperation and futile attempts to survive are gut-wrenching, but over-done. Once Haneke begins to toy with us again the pace picks back up the film returns to form, capping off with perfect unsettling ending -- and the cycle continues.
Fun Fact: Michael Haneke directed an American remake of Funny Games in 2008 starring Naomie Watts, Tim Roth, and Michael Pitt.