A fourth-wall breaking movie about two psychopaths playing with a random family. It’s a comedy, clearly.
George Farber (Tim Roth), his wife Ann (Naomi Watts), and their son Georgie (Devon Gearheart) are staying at their lake house for a vacation. When they arrive, they discover that their neighbor Fred (Boyd Gaines) has a few guests, Peter and Paul (Brady Corbet and Michael Pitt). The two new guests come over to borrow some eggs, but they end up making the Farbers feel uncomfortable. When finally asked to leave, the pair attack the Farbers and hold them hostage, torturing them physically and psychologically and all because it’s fun for them, and for the audience. Peter frequently discusses film trends and tropes, while Paul literally breaks the fourth wall and talks to the audience.
This is a remake of the 1997 film of the same name, but it was by the same director, Michael Haneke. The only major differences are budget, language, and the caliber of actors involved. Not that the cast in the original Austrian film are bad, quite the contrary, but the cast here really sell the film. While the violence is, if not toned down, then at least changed a bit, most of the scenes in this movie are lifted directly from the original, from the lines (albeit translated) to the camera angles to the sets. While that might sound like Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho, let me assure you that this movie is actually good. Also, Haneke’s copying himself, so I think that doesn’t count as a rip-off.
The big thing about this movie is that it’s pretty much designed to be the opposite of expectations. That’s exactly what Haneke was going with in the original and this carries the same theme. The idea behind the movie is that it’s violent, but there is no underlying meaning or purpose to anything in the film. It’s supposed to be a critique of violence in media being meritless, and how we somehow forgive certain violent acts in film as long as they’re done in the “right” way. We’re fine with Clint Eastwood gunning down a town full of people or watching Jason Vorhees massacre a group of horny teens, because those are the “approved” kinds of violence. In modern narratives, violence is permissible as long as it’s either redemptive (i.e. John McClane dropping Hans Gruber off of a skyscraper) or punitive (i.e. the T-Rex eating the bad guys), but this film defies that by having all of the violence enacted upon pretty much innocent people for no reason.
Beyond that, the movie doesn’t try to get us to blame the two sociopaths for doing these things, but instead has Paul keep winking at the camera, literally, and ask us what we want, pointing out that the reason why there’s so much violence in the media is because we desire that. Moreover, it asks us to ask ourselves WHY we desire it? What the hell is wrong with us that we’re not disturbed by watching John Wayne kill thirty men, even if they deserved it? If we’re justifying it by saying those people aren’t real, then why would it disturb us when these people are tortured and murdered in this film? The point of this movie is that we really need to ask ourselves why we’re so okay with violence. As a fan of action and horror movies, I usually just say it’s part of a natural catharsis, but it’s not like this isn’t a question people have asked for millennia. This is just a fairly original way to ask it again.
The reason why this works so well is because this movie is really well done. Any art film can ask a philosophical question and pretend that it’s deep, but Michael Haneke focused on making an intense and interesting film first, then building the message organically into the story. The cinematography is first class, the dialogue is compelling despite being awkward, and the performances are all great. A weirdly notable thing about the movie is that nobody looks good in it. Everyone looks like they’re under stress and half-beaten when they’re supposed to be, but not in the way that Hollywood actors usually portray “tired.” These people look like they’re at the ends of their ropes, and I appreciate that they were willing to be shot that way, like they’re actual humans in this situation.
This is a horror movie, but it’s not a traditional one. Even the director says it wasn’t intended to be, but what else would you call a movie that not only shows you something revolting, but leads you to ask yourself why you wanted to watch that? Really, I recommend everyone watch this at least once, because it truly is a unique movie… except that there are two of them, I guess.
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