If one thing can be said about the films of Michael Haneke, it is that they are daring. BENNY'S VIDEO follows a disenchanted youth as he obsesses over violent films, engages in delinquent activities at school, and surveys the neighborhood through the lens of his camera. After he welcomes a young girl in to his voyeuristic world and shows her his prize possession--a video of a pig being shot to death--he turns the gun on her and murders her in cold blood, all while he films the entire event. His parents uncover the tape, and must decide what to do with their sociopathic son. Arno Frisch is captivating as the lead, perfectly depicting an adolescent devoid of all emotion and moral obligation that has been desensitized by the world around him. As is the case in each of Haneke's other offerings, BENNY'S VIDEO is artfully shot, with a cold and detached filming style that is reflective of his characters. He does not invite the viewer to empathize with any of the characters or their actions. He also robs the viewer of any score, thereby removing the safety net that separates fact from fiction (an underlying theme that is replayed constantly in the film).
Outside of the jarring murder, the most frightening aspect of the film is Benny's parents' readiness to cover up their son's mistakes in order to wash their own hands clean of their lack of responsibility and neglect. As usual, Haneke points the finger at his audience, making bold statements about the environmental effects that shape emotionless killers. His condemnation of media violence and parental control cannot be viewed without considering the hypocritical nature of his claims when the film, itself, relies on shocking violence to prove its own point. This same duality would be extended in his later (and superior) effort FUNNY GAMES. Unfortunately, the raw power and heightened suspense created in the first half drop off dramatically after the hour mark, at which point the family drama sets in.
BENNY'S VIDEO is a disturbing look at teen violence that cannot be overlooked. It is gut-wrenching at times, angering at others, but absolutely sure to draw an emotional response from the viewer.
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If you liked BENNY'S VIDEO, check out:
FUNNY GAMES, AMERICAN PSYCHO, THE LAST HORROR FILM.