One of controversial filmmaker Michael Haneke's better-known pictures, Funny Games, follows Georg (Ulrich Muhe) and Anna (Susanne Lohtar) and their young son Schorschi (Stefan Clapczynski). The three have recently arrived at their house on the lake and Georg is fairly preoccupied with getting his new boat in working order, the key to the success of the family's vacation plans. While Anna is in the kitchen, a strange man wearing white gloves arrives and asks her to borrow a couple of eggs. Things become even more curious when a second man arrives and begins obsessing over Georg's golf clubs.
The two men start referring to one another as Peter and Paul, and it soon becomes obvious that there's something wrong - these guys don't intend to leave. Georg comes back from his boat-related distractions and tries to get the two men out of the home but the conflict soon becomes violent and the family find themselves being held hostage by this pair of unstable criminals bent on forcing the three of them to join in on their funny games.
A strange mix of influences creeps into Funny Games. Obviously, seventies nasties like Last House On The Left are owed a debt but so too is the more recent French satire, Man Bites Dog. Haneke puts the viewer in the position not to identify with the family so much as in the position to identify with the antagonists. We're pulled along for the ride and almost made willing participants in the carnage that ensues as the killers talk right to the camera, addressing us directly. As such, we become involved in the madness and in some ways, it's almost as if we're provoking them to push the envelope and get nastier and nastier as the film progresses.
A common argument against the film is that we don't care about the family, but in a way that's part of the point of the picture. If we're to question why we're watching this and if we're to be forced to side with the antagonists why would we want to sympathize with the victims? If the killers are going to see them as nothing more than play things, should we be concerned with their wellbeing if we're to see things from the killers' points of view?
Haneke avoids falling into exploitation movie territory by putting almost all of the violence off screen, but the audio effects used in place of gory visuals more than make up for the lack of actual on-screen bloodshed. Haneke employs a few other unexpected quirks in the picture, toying with our preconceived notions of what should or should not happen in a horror movie and just as importantly, how it should happen. Funny Games isn't completely successful, as there are moments where the film almost feels like its talking down to its audience rather than asking us to contemplate things for ourselves, but it's certainly a thought-provoking picture for most of its running time and it's a well-made and disturbing examination of violence and its effects.
Funny Games makes its way Blu-ray courtesy of The Criterion Collection (it was previously released domestically on DVD via Kino Lorber) on a 50GB disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation framed at 1.85.1 widescreen taken from a new 2k restoration supervised by the director. This is a very solid transfer that provides a nice upgrade over past standard definition offerings. Detail is often times very impressive here and color reproduction looks very good. The image is crisp an clean throughout, retaining a natural amount of film grain but showing no real print damage. Black levels are nice and strong and aside from a few scenes where Haneke lets the visuals run a little hot (meaning contrast looks a bit boosted and the image potentially over exposed a tad), which was presumably intentional as it looks that way on the DVD, things look excellent.
Audio chores are handled by a German language 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix with removable subtitles provided in English only. No problems to note here at all. Dialogue is nicely balanced amongst the effects in the film. The track is perfectly clear, free of any hiss or distortion. There's a decent lower end here too when the movie calls for it, and the film's eclectic soundtrack is spread out quite nicely, enhancing scenes of drama and tension very effectively.
Criterion supplies a nice selection of extra features starting with a new interview with Haneke entitled Trojan Horses that runs twenty-five-minutes. He speaks in quite a bit of detail here about how and why he wrote the script that he did for the film, it's original title, trying to secure funding for the picture, influences, characters in the film and plenty more. After that, we get an interview with actor Arno Frisch that runs eighteen-minutes entitled Bad Boy. He talks about his thoughts on the film, how he connected with the director and came to be in the picture, his thoughts on the script, taking direction from Haneke, thoughts on his character and other related subjects. The twenty-eight-minute Game Culture is a new interview with film historian Alexander Horwarth. He goes into quite a bit of detail about how the film toys with expectations, how it compares to other films in the director's filmography, the experimental aspects of the film, the significance of the title and other themes and ideas that the film exploits. All three of these interviews are in German with English subtitles.
The disc also includes forty-four-minutes of footage from a press conference held at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival featuring Haneke and actors Susanne Lothar and Ulrich Mühe. Here they take questions from an audience after a screening of the film and cover its origins, impact, and production history. A lot of the same ground is covered in Haneke's interview but there's enough unique material here to make it worthwhile.
Outside of that, the disc includes a theatrical trailer for the film menus and chapter selection. The disc also comes packaged with an insert book containing credits for the feature and the presentation as well as an essay on the film written by film critic Bilge Ebiri.
Funny Games is as suspenseful as it is divisive, a tightly wound picture that gleefully toys with audience expectations. Criterion has done a great job bringing it to Blu-ray, presenting it in a beautiful transfer with fine lossless audio and a nice collection of supplements that document the film's history and explore its themes and style. Highly recommended.