The short version is: no, Michael Haneke's new version of Funny Games does not need to exist. Regardless of its inherent quality or lack thereof, it serves essentially no useful purpose.

As to the useless purposes it serves, well, that's the long version.

In 1997, the German director made his first major international splash with the Austrian-produced Funny Games, conceived of as a criticism of the use of entertaining violence in movies; Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction are typically cited as the particular violent movies that sent Haneke over the edge. It revolved around two very polite psychopaths who trap a bourgeoisie family in their lake house, torturing them mentally and physically. This was not to be some arch intellectual exercise, he insisted; it was to be an actively repulsive work of anti-entertainment. This was most famously articulated in his boast to Sight & Sound: "Anyone who leaves the cinema doesn't need the film, and anybody who stays does."

In the eleven years since his film to end violence in film was released, American cinemas have seen the rebirth of slasher films in a new, PG-13 form; torture as diversion has become a staple on both the big screen and little; we can show bloody decapitations to an audience deemed too sensitive for the horrifying sight of an adult woman's naked chest. And so Haneke has decided that he must once again come to save a degenerate civilisation, this time going straight to the source: the new Funny Games, a nearly shot-by-shot and line-by-line remake, is in English, with a big ol' movie star in Naomi Watts, and it has already sank like a stone at the box office, but that's neither here or there.

Please don't take my word for it. Haneke has made it very clear that the point of the movie was to give those idiotic 'Murkins who couldn't possible watch a subtitled film another chance to bow to his wisdom. Interviews to that effect are all over the place, and I'm too cranky with the man to go seek them out myself.

To me, the most significant fact about this Funny Games is how it retroactively lessens the original, because it is now unmistakably clear that Haneke actually meant what he said he meant. He was actually trying to make a film that would force the audience to confront its love of violence and feel ashamed of it. This is ironic, because it is almost impossible to imagine a film that comes farther from achieving that goal than Funny Games - either one.

In both versions of the film - for they are almost exact replicas, after all - there are five moments where the fourth wall is broken. One of the two polite young psychopaths is aware that he's in a movie, and he's aware that the audience for that movie came expecting lots of exciting gore, and he expresses that fact to us. Twice he winks at us; once he asks whose side we're on, and if we're waiting for he and his friend to receive bloody comeuppance; once he apologises that the movie isn't fitting a customary narrative; and in the film's most (in)famous moment, he grabs a remote and rewinds when his careful plans are briefly scuttled.

I could name a thousand ways that you can trick an audience into finding the violence they paid money to gawk at to be morally upsetting and atrocious, and the very last way I would ever pick is having a character look the audience straight in the eye and say, "you want to see violence, don't you?" Because in that moment, Funny Games ceases to be a story and becomes a motion picture.

Something that's been bothering me for ages, particularly since my summer-long exploration of slasher films last year: all these people, Haneke included, who complain about the violence we see in movies always seem to forget what a "movie" is. Michael Madsen didn't actually cut that guy's ear off in Reservoir Dogs. Tobin Bell didn't really force Cary Elwes to cut off his foot in Saw. Naomi Watts isn't really being tortured in this film. That's all pretend, and it's why most of us can watch violent movies and not go out and be serial killers. Does 24 habituate the audience to torture? I don't know, not being a sociologist, and I frankly don't care to indict the creators of the show if it could be proven tomorrow that it does.

Haneke certainly knows that movies are pretend. He makes movies. He made Funny Games twice. But let's play his game: let's assume that the audience is a bunch of rubes who really think they're getting off on an actual torture scene. If you want to convince that audience that violent entertainment is evil, there is one thing and only one thing that you must not do: cheapen the reality of that violence. Once Paul the killer turns to us and as much as says, "I am a fake character in a made-up film," the reality in Funny Games can be discarded. It's just a movie. And if Funny Games is just a movie, what about all those other torture movies? They're just movies too. So I guess we don't have to be worried about the impact of watching them? Guess not. Bring on Saw V!

It's for this reason that I find people who get outraged by Funny Games to be amusingly misguided. It's like wanting to string Magritte up for painting The Treachery of Images.

Now, as God is my witness, I thought that was the point of the 1997 film. It wasn't an indictment of violence in film, but a commentary on how violence cannot actually be filmed, in the sense that Tarantino et al would seem to demonstrate. Certainly, the rest of the Haneke films I've seen would tend to bear that believe out; he's a director much taken up with presenting his films as objects and not as narratives, exemplified by his most recent film and masterpiece, Caché.

The new Funny Games, just by its existence (to say nothing of Haneke's ubiquitous media presence), proves me wrong. He really is that much of a schoolmarm, and apparently completely ignorant of what breaking the fourth wall does to a movie. Which is a shame, given how often he does it.

Even if I am wrong about all this, who does Haneke think he's fooling? No matter how much the ad campaign promises "come see the torture!" this was ever only going to be a film for the art house crowd; I certainly don't know, but I expect most of the people who have seen the new film also saw the original at some point, and are motivated by curiosity, not unlike Gus Van Sant's Psycho from 1998 (a film that's really a terrible analogue for Haneke's remake, the more you think about it). And the film's amazing half-million opening weekend and $1905 per-screen average pretty much proves him wrong, whether it proves me right or not.

I've seen the argument online that the point wasn't actually to get people to see the movie, but to talk about the movie, which means that I've fallen right into his trap. I think that it's hard to argue that the people having this conversation (and again, it's all over the film blogosphere; please don't make me look) are the one that Haneke thinks ought to, unless this whole movie, ad campaign and promotional tour are just a giant work of performance art.

Anyway, not one word of what I just said has anything to do with the movie. I actually thought about reviewing it without even seeing it, but that would have been dishonest. The problem is that there's virtually nothing to say about it; I only noticed two shots that were different between films and one patch of dialogue, changed because we have the 911 emergency line in this country. The production design is even mostly identical (the sets were built as a replica of the original house), making this 2007-set American movie look like the European countryside in the late '90s, only with smaller cell phones. Haneke couldn't even be bothered to give his upwardly mobile couple an HDTV or a DVD player.

So really, all a reviewer is to do is talk about the performances. Watts is virtually identical to Susanne Lothar, Tim Roth (I like to think he was cast because of his Tarantino connection) is a bit snarkier than Ulrich Mühe was, which actually helps the film a bit. Michael Pitt, as the more aggressive of the two young killers, is just about the only thing that's entirely different from the original film, although since Arno Frisch was so good, I hesitate to call Pitt "better." He's more "different," his psychosis hidden in a relentless creepy goodwill. It's an unabashedly great performance, and considering that Pitt had to do it all with his voice (the blocking is, that's right, identical to the original), it's a pretty fine thing to witness.

But that is not enough to make the film worth...anything, really. If one must see a Funny Games, I can't say this or that one is better. It might be fun to the new one just to watch the audience - in my theater of 15, one couple and one individual walked out, and two people walked in midway through (I don't know what that was about). If one saw the original, there's no earthly reason to see it again, except for curiosity. Now that Haneke's game is clear, it's also pretty useless: his attempt to attack "cool" violence with "constructed" violence is just kind of mirthlessly amusing. I find, after having vomited all these words on the movie, that I mostly just don't give a damn about it.

5/10, and thus it was dictated from the moment the project was announced.