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Monday, November 1, 2010

Review: A Serbian Film (2010)

If you're like me and consider yourself a Horror fan whose tendencies gravitate toward the more extreme and controversial margins of the genre, then folks, this review speaks directly to you.  Every so often a film comes along that pushes certain boundaries and in doing so many will deem it as inflammatory, tasteless, objectionable or even unlawful.  As a staunch believer in freedom of expression and artistic license I believe the last accusation to be as loathsome as any of the films that sometimes come into question, however.  A work of fiction is just that.  And what Horror fan hasn't been reminded by Craven and crew that it's only a movie.  Or in this case, a film.  A Serbian Film.  If you're a genre enthusiast you've probably heard of it by now; the hype machine for it has been turning wheels on the web for awhile.  The question is - have you seen it?  For those wondering if it is worth the watch I'll be giving a brief overview and my personal thoughts on it and you can take of it what you will.  And if you've already seen the film, I'd love to get feedback on what effect, if any, it had on you. So let's get to it, shall we?

As A Serbian Film opens we are introduced to Milos, a semi-retired Serbian porn actor who is struggling to provide for a devoted wife and young son.  Milos was once the swingingest dick in Porndom, but now has been relegated to the bared bottom of the barrel.  A friend in the industry informs him of a new director named Vukmir with deep pockets and connections who hopes to rejuvenate the stagnant industry with his revolutionary ideas; sighting Milos as the perfect choice for his star.  As to be expected, the hungry actor readily agrees to a meeting.  Vukmir is extremely vague on what type of film he wants to make exactly, telling Milos he would be instinctively acting off of the reality of the situations presented and any knowledge prior would compromise the integrity of the performance.  The eccentric pornographer also promises the stud for hire enough money to retire in splendor should he take the job.  Milos discusses the opportunity with his wife, casts skepticism aside and signs on the dotted line of what will become his very own personal descent into Hell…and beyond.

When Milos first arrives on set he is only aided by an ear piece through which to receive instruction and very quickly becomes puzzled and alarmed when he realizes that children are involved in the bizarre tableaus.  After a couple of days of shooting, Milos becomes too uncomfortable with the direction things are taking and decides he wants out.  And that's when things turn really nasty.

To give any more away would spoil the impact, or in A Serbian Film's case, the sheer blunt trauma the viewer must withstand should they be able to make it to the end.  And I'll tell you right now that many likely won't.  Numerous things freshman director Srdjan Spasojevic brings to the screen are things no one in their right mind really wants to see and I believe that to be very purposeful and part of the film's power.  The blending of sexual violence and perversity here is far too extreme for the average thrill seeker looking for mere entertainment and several scenes will surely linger in infamy.  However, the film transcends its exploitative properties (no easy feat considering what transpires) to become one of the most transgressive works the Horror genre (or any other) has ever seen.  And yes, I'm including such disobedient offerings as Salo, Forced Entry, Men Behind The Sun, August Underground, Irreversible and Martyrs, to name just a few.

Now if it were only a superficial shock-fest I could easily leave matters be and wrap this review up, but I feel compelled to further elaborate; especially for the sake of anyone who might be shying away from wanting to view it after reading my brief synopsis.

At it stands, A Serbian Film is not only one of the most shocking films to ever come along, but one of the most assured and suspenseful as well. And as angry, evil-natured and depraved as it all may seem on the surface, I believe there are completely valid, thoughtful and challenging questions cleverly being raised underneath all the chaos. Now I grant you that director Spasojevic's film dangerously peters on the fence of morality and even discerning viewers are threatened to atrophy in disgust before it culminates; however, if you can weather the storm, I think you'll find yourself having gone through an experience.  Albeit, a very unpleasant one. Art and film should not always be safe in my opinion. Nothing is safe in A Serbian Film and as a struggling artist myself, I respect the hell out of that.

The film is not a gore fest by any means and there is more left to the imagination than you might first initially notice.  Such is the power of the unsettling images presented. The entire production is technically accomplished and it does manage a steadied slow burn until about halfway in; then things just careen wildly straight into the rabbit hole.  Be that as it may, when all things are said and done I think that the more contemplative viewers would agree there is enough substance and purpose behind it to withstand all the expected high levels of negative scrutiny and criticism.

In fact, whether it's even a Horror film becomes almost irrelevant by its vile denouement. One can take it as a political allegory of the Serbian climate and its continued cycles of violence and repression, much in the vein of Salo. Another may take it as a deconstruction of family; or a condemnation of the dangerous effects our over-exposure to violence, pornography and sexualized media might encourage. Even a stark contemplation on the idea of victim and its place in mainstream "entertainment"; not to mention how it takes the idea of torture-porn to the darkest recesses of the imagination. Additionally, it could also be seen as just a tragic and simple morality play of bombastic proportions.  Or most conspicuously, just swept under the carpet as another tasteless shock piece meant only to offend. Only the makers really know for sure.  What is commendable is that it works on ALL these levels.

Ultimately you may be repulsed by the film or just not agree on the delivery, but it's hard to ignore the many messages and questions it seems to want to bring to mind. And I believe this to be quite deliberate and all too effective. It is for this fact that I strongly encourage anyone brave enough to watch A Serbian Film to do so and then form their own conclusions.


  1. As you know, I found this movie disturbing and shocking. but Reading your review and seeing the storyline through your eyes may ahve softened my views. I still wont watch it again. Im sure the images and feelings I took from this film will be burned into my memory for a very long time --Im sure , to the director's delight

    ** Mistressof Horror

  2. Unlike most people, I wasn't repulsed by this film because I kept thinking 'it's only acting'. I don't normally do that when I watch horror movies because I like to get involved and believe that the horror is real. But for some weird reason, I couldn't get into this film. I was viewing it from a great distance. I didn't care what happened to the characters either. That said, I still rated it 6/10.

    ** Bloodmania.

  3. glad you put that picture of the director in there - I thought he was hilarious and brilliantly played. Really helped to lighten the tone.

  4. I came across this film quite by accident and knew absolutely nothing about it prior to watching. Now I consider myself quite broadminded, but 20 minutes in and I decided to check the rest of the film out by skimming it. I was horrified, disgusted and wondered how the damn thing got made. For all the arguments about art and acting I wish this had never been allowed to be made...where do we go from here...down the toilet!!!!!