Sometimes it's funny how the word "horror" gets manipulated in the media. Icons of the genre often try to distance themselves from it, while other filmmakers embrace the term because they know they are not confined to its pre-supposed limitations (for example, recent Oscar winners Joel and Ethan Coen have repeatedly called their blockbuster movie No Country For Old Men "a horror movie"). And even when a horror superstar (like Asia Argento) makes a non-genre movie, genre fans will follow. Some like to repeat themselves, such as Michael Haneke, the German filmmaker who burst onto the scene in '97 with his study on the horrors of human behavior, Funny Games, who's presenting a shot-for-shot remake 11 years later for the U.S. market.
Now's probably the time to check out the German-language Funny Games on DVD. While the new version is indeed a direct lift (same everything, except for the actors), there is something more chilling and harrowing about the original. The game-players, in particular, are especially memorable and menacing — whether the team is calling themselves Paul and Peter, Tom and Jerry, or Beavis and Butthead — they're portrayed to poise and perfection by Arno Frisch and Frank Giering.
Like most truly terrifying villains (think: Anton Chigurh from No Country For Old Men), we know nothing about these white-gloved, very polite, clean-cut young men. They simply show up on the scene at an isolated resort island where a few families are vacationing, and little by little, they invade these homes and play deadly "games" with the owners.
Most of the violence takes place off-camera, but the camera itself is like a character in the movie: unlike Blair Witch, [rec], or Cloverfield, it's not an external device capturing the action, it's simply an accepted accessory to everyday life. Even though the killers are not shown to be documenting their crimes, Haneke does use "Paul" to break the third wall and to irritate the audience into rethinking their own complacency with violence in popular culture. It's an interesting (if unfunny, cold and hopeless) horror movie worth seeing at least once.
Unfunny, cold and hopeless can also be applied to Asia Argento's upcoming film, Boarding Gate — but here, the adjectives are not meant as compliments. This terminally flat flick should have instead been called Boring Gate. In it, the tattooed daughter of horror maestro Dario Argento plays Sandra, an ex-prostitute who was manipulated into corporate espionage by her sexually sadistic boss (a slack Michael Madsen), and is now at loose ends. After a strange intimate encounter (enjoy looking at Asia nude here, because it won't happen again), she kills him and flees to Hong Kong where she finds herself in even deeper despair.
Your safest bet this week is probably the DVD of No Country For Old Men. It's got the best of all worlds: gruesome death scenes, edge of your seat suspense, compelling characters, and a story that draws you in like a fly to a spider web.
Based on a literary novel by the revered Cormac McCarthy, No Country For Old Men follows three archetypical males on a chase across rural Texas in 1980. After Llewelyn (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a drug deal gone bad, he takes the money and buys himself a world of trouble in the form of assassin Anton (Javier Bardem), and lawman Ed (Tommy Lee Jones). Perhaps one of the most interesting and subtle mind games is the fact that the killer, the cop, and the opportunist are never once shown together even though their storylines are integral to one another. It's a cruel tightrope of a movie, and one that you will not soon forget.
The DVD presentation is, however, far from memorable. Shuttled out onto shelves with three very standard making-featurettes, the disc does not contain commentary, a look at the novel, or anything deeper than a flesh wound. Adding insult to injury, the extras are riddled with spoilers and no warning.
Still: the DVD is highly recommended for the library on the strength of the highly quotable, super-scary instant classic alone.
= = =Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson