I’ve seen the remake, which is just a shot-for-shot remake of this film by the same director. But it’s been quite a few years. And sometimes, shot-for-shots aren’t always the same quality (see: Psycho). Still, my tastes have changed a bit since I saw the remake (which I hated), and I decided to give the original a chance. If you’re unaware, the film follows a couple, Anna (Susanne Lothar) and Georg (Ulrich Muhe), and their son as they visit their vacation home. But soon after they arrive, some “friends” of the neighbors show up asking for some eggs. There’s the shy one, Peter (Frank Giering), and the leader, Paul (Arno Frisch). Things slowly start to get out of hand as the two guys hold the family hostage–almost never losing their tempers or their politeness–and make them do embarrassing or horrifying things… just because.
I don’t want to spend too much time comparing the two versions, but I will say… I liked this one better. I have no idea why, either. They’re identical in almost every way. I think it’s, by and large, the actors. The Peter and Paul characters are better here and don’t give off the bizarre Village of the Damned via Wes Anderson vibe that they do in the remake. Also, the husband is played by the magnificent Ulrich Muhe, who some of you might know from an amazing film called The Lives of Others. No offense to the remake’s Tim Roth, but this was just a better performance. The following might be a bit shallow, but I actually preferred Naomi Watts to Susanne Lothar because (yes) Lothar just is not attractive. At all. Though apparently Lothar and Muhe were actually married, so that did give a realism effect to the whole thing.
Surprisingly, for a film declared so violent and disturbing, there is almost no violence actually shown on screen. I think the only thing you might see is the husband getting hit in the leg with a golf club near the beginning, but even then I can’t recall if it actually shows the hit. But this is also the point of the film, and this is where this film pisses most people off. The film has a meta aspect to it where Paul often breaks the fourth wall (though while most people hate that aspect of the film, that’s my favorite part–of course). But the reason people hate it is because the purpose of the entire film is for director Michael Haneke to insult you. The film is a social commentary on the modern audience and its fascination with on-screen violence and torture. And there’s a meta moment at the climax of the film that sends most people over the edge, since it’s basically a big “fuck you” to everyone. In fact, Haneke has stated that if the film was a success (and/or people liked it), then it’s because they didn’t understand it. I understand it just fine. I’m just not easily insulted by it and rather appreciate that whole aspect of the film.
What I don’t appreciate is boredom. I wasn’t as painfully bored during this version for some reason (perhaps because I knew what was coming), but there were still parts that are agonizing. I’d say the first hour or so of the film is fine. It’s a typical, albeit screwed up horror/thriller. But then, at one point, the bad guys decide to leave. The next 20 minutes of the movie is so, so dull. Why? Because the very first thing that happens is a 10-minute single shot that never leaves the living room where very little happens. It’s basically about 3 minutes of literally nothing happening–just some sitting. Then there’s the escape attempt that moves so painstakingly slow. I swear, that 10 minutes feels like an hour at times. But it’s not over yet. After the 10-minute single take in the living room, we move to the kitchen where we trudge at a snail’s pace to sit the husband down and try and dry off the phone rather than make a run for it. It’s this long stretch of movie without the boys that I find so terribly dull, and this was actually the section of the remake I remember most (and most unfondly).
That being said, it seems the more I reflect on this version, the more I like (or at the very least appreciate) it. I still don’t care for the remake, and again, I think that is in large due to the actors. Watts might have been hotter, but I will give you that Lothar fit the role better as an ordinary woman. The film is carried by the boys, and the two in this film are much better with the role than the remake versions. This could very well be a film to piss you off, but I did really like the meta aspect, and it never bothered me that you don’t see the violence (because the film in and of itself is still disturbing). I just wish it wouldn’t have had 20 minutes of incredible dullness before the climax.