The aim of this paper is to explore how Funny Games U.S. (2007) critiques the genre of horror movies and subverts its previous conventions. Michael Haneke, the director of the movie, is interested not in entertaining his audience, rather in punishing it for watching the film until its ending. Funny Games U.S. offers its viewers to witness a spectacle of purposelessness and extreme brutality that lasts for almost two hours. At the same time, Haneke offers a harsh critique of violent entertainments in order to treat the public intoxicated by casual consumption of brutality on the screen. I will examine how Funny Games U.S. explores the nature of violence, challenges spectators’ expectations, breaks “the fourth wall”, and subverts the roles of the victims and perpetrators that are typical for conventional horror films in order to demonstrate the key role of the audience in the boost of violence on the screen.
Funny Games U.S. explores the nature of the desire of public to see violence in cinematography. From Ancient Rome to modern society, humans have always been interested in demonstration of violence in different forms for the pleasure. In some way, Funny Games U.S. provokes the audience to show how far it is ready to go in its desire for entertainment (Brown 26). The first scenes of the film open up with an average American bourgeois family that consists of a mother (Naomi Watts, father (Tim Roth), their son (Davon Gearhart), and their golden, retriever arriving on Long Island on their vacation. The director pays much attention to details of their excessive consumption such as drinking soy milk, playing golf, boating, feeding their dog by expensive forage, listening to classical music, and keeping a Tivoli radio in order to talk to the dark side of a human soul and, thus, make the audience feel that these upper-class snobs deserve to be disgraced, tortured, and killed for exhibiting their richness, wealth, and bourgeois tastes. Probably, the film simply suggests that the audience may let itself feel that way. So, Haneke challenges the public in order to prove that the desire for witnessing violence is characteristic for all humans that is reflected in increased number of its demonstration in the mass media and films.
Funny Games U.S. breaks “the fourth wall” in order to make the audience feel accessorial to expansion of violence in cinema. Throughout the film, Paul addresses the camera and communicates with the audience directly. He says to the people on the other side of the screen that they probably support the family, but not Paul and Peter. Thus, he realizes that the viewers might see him and his friend as antagonists; however, this fact does not stop him from doing the things he does. Paul plays with the audience by asking if they bet that the victims will survive. By letting him speak to the viewers, the director makes the audience feel a connection with Paul, thus, pointing out their co-conspirator role in the humiliation. The character says that the film is real and everything truly happens there. The viewers of the film are at the same time the consumers of the mass media who have reached the point of no return, at which they can no longer find the difference between fiction and reality. The perpetrators and the audience are the same in their motivation – desire for entertainment. Hence, Funny Games U.S. makes the viewers responsible for the violence they witness on the screen.
Funny Games U.S. subverts the roles of the victims and perpetrators by making the audience accessory of the crime that happens there. In this way, the idea of the film is quite simple: if one watches it, he/she is not better than Peter and Paul. In some way, the team working on the film is a victim of the situation, since people who watch it want to see violence and make the filmmakers do what they are supposed to do – meet the needs of the audience. The director creates such atmosphere with the help of the operator, who makes the camera stand still in especially cruel scenes, as the terror unfolds beyond its range. It seems that the whole crew closes their eyes and does nothing but witnesses the horror together with the spectators. Thus, the audience plays the role of a passive witness who does nothing to stop senseless act of violence and, as a result, supports it (Gerbaz 166). Haneke lets Paul change the flow of the storyline in order to create the atmosphere of absurdity as well as injustice, and completely confuses the viewers.
Funny Games U.S. challenges the audience’s expectations of the horror genre. Most horror movies present a fairy tale in which good characters surely survive and bad ones die or are punished. However, Funny Games U.S. mocks the audience for their hope for a good ending. Normally, a horror movie would immediately ally viewers with needlessly tortured victims. However, Haneke’s film makes the audience take the side of the abusers. The film is rather an experiment that shocks the audience and poses an ethical dilemma. To get out of it, an individual has to reject the idea of participation in such an experiment and simply walk out turning the TV off; thus, symbolically declaring his/ her refusal to support the violence on the screen. In contrast to other horror films, Funny Games U.S. demonstrates that it does not play by the rules, as the director rewrites his own ones whenever he likes. So, once again, Funny Games U.S. punishes the audience for its desire for cruel entertainment and breaks its expectations of the happy end and triumph of the good.
Thus, in Funny Games U.S., Haneke explores the nature of violence, challenges viewers’ expectations, breaks “the fourth wall”, and subverts the roles of the victims and perpetrators that are typical for conventional horror films in order to demonstrate the key role of the audience in the boost of violence on the screen. Brutality in films that people choose to view for their entertainment is similar to violence of Peter and Paul, since it is perpetrated for the same purpose.