Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for violence, language and excessive abuse
Run Time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Edgy auteur Michael Haneke (“The Piano Teacher”) uses the head fake to extreme advantage in this shocking, uncompromising thriller that’s a shot-by-shot remake of his own 1997 German-language original.
Haneke taps into the notion of home invasion as everyone’s worst nightmare, the very essence of its latent reality making for horrific and disconcerting viewing.
As Ann (Naomi Watts) and George (Tim Roth) and son arrive at their swanky lakeside digs its business as usual; unpack the bags, launch the boat and thaw out some steaks for a lazy summer barbecue.
Even when the neighbors pop in with a pair of handsome houseguests all seems status quo. Or does it? The boys are clad in cool tennis whites with the curious addition of pristine white gloves. Good manners dictate they go unmentioned.
While Paul (Michael Pitt) busies himself with outdoor pursuits Peter (Brady Corbet) makes camp in the kitchen with Ann, insisting the neighbors need some eggs for their morning omelet.
There’s nothing overtly amiss but the tone is distinctly off; in Peter’s provoking persistence, his flat, impassive gaze and long, lingering close-ups on cold empty spaces.
Slowly, painstakingly, it all goes to hell; the visitors’ carefully mannered conduct imploding into malignant domestic abuse – pregnant pauses and loaded silences punctuated by displays of sadistic brutality and tension without resolution.
And that tension is too close to home. Haneke utilizes a sporadically raucous score to uneasy effect and raises the fear-factor with what you don’t see, forcing an overactive imagination to do the dirty work for you.
It’s a thriller of exceedingly repellent thrills; a visceral and disturbing homage to decades of what is commonly referred to as “theatre of cruelty”. The anger is palpable – how could they? Why would they?
Climax is an agonizing leap of ruthlessness; infuriating, outrageous and unbearably provocative. “Games” rests so heavily on tenterhooks of guilt that an apology is in order for admiring it; so profoundly unsettling, so thoroughly wrong that it nearly feels right.