A Serbian Film. 2010. Directed by Srđan Spasojević.
Starring Srdjan Todorovic, Sergej Trifunovic, Jelena Gavrilovic, Slobodan Bestic, Katarina Zutic.
Rated NC-17. 104 minutes.
I saw A Serbian Film (original title: Srpski film) when it first came out. Devastated me. I watch a lot of horror, I’ve seen tons of visually disturbing images, thousands upon thousands of them I would venture to bet. But something about this one really got to me. Of course, I’ve seen a few images that rival those in A Serbian Film. For instance, there are a couple moments in the German horror film Schramm where I really get uncomfortable, and again, this does not happen often. There’s just that little extra eeriness about this that hits me where it hurts. So I waited a long time before watching it again. Tonight, I decided, for some reason, to throw it on, give it another go, and maybe see if I could extract something worthwhile out of it.A Serbian Film is a decent horror-thriller, despite its hardcore qualities. It isn’t all debauchery. There are quiet moments. Even a few I would say are quite nice. Although everything in the film is tainted. Especially once you’ve gone back to the beginning and watched it again, after knowing everything that happens. One actually nice image is a moment when Miloš’ wife bites into an apple; very slow, almost earth-stopping moment. Naturally, once you wait a few minutes, and definitely after the whole film is over, you’ll know the intentions of the shot are disturbing and grim. But still, a nice shot.
The plot has Miloš, an aging porn star with a wife and young boy, being offered a new job. This is basically the job of a lifetime for someone like him- lots of money to help him actually settle down instead of having to have sex on camera every time he needs to pay the bills. After some time, though, Miloš figures out this is not what he thought he’d signed up for. To say any more would really ruin the plot. What I will say is this: if you have yet to see this and have yet to read anything about it thoroughly, beware! This is not at all for the faint of heart. And I mean at all.
Some people say, “Oh well it can’t be any worse than all the tons of horror I’ve seen before”, and you know what? I said that, too. Then I watched A Serbian Film myself. I watched it and I was horrified. Though horrified, I think, with some merit. This isn’t just “torture porn” (a stupid label by stupid critics who need to label everything with a stupid name). I’m not saying it’s a grand piece of art, but you can’t simply pass this film off by saying it’s irrelevant, or that it only goes into disturbingly graphic and violent imagery for the sole sake of trying to shock people. That’s why there’s a particular air about the film which really draws me in, hanging over every single frame. A darkness. Infused in the movie by something other than just sickening horror and violence. Again, though, I tell you BEWARE! One specific image comes to mind (and for those who’ve seen it you absolutely know the one I’m talking about) that will truly traumatise even the most hardcore horror fans. This is not August Underground. As I said before, I’ve seen a lot of disturbing film. Have you seen Salo? Pasolini lets us off easy compared to some of the imagery here. Like a walk in the park. So, to reiterate, it gets damn graphic.
The director says the whole film is an allegorical tale. A metaphor for Serbia, particularly Serbian cinema. I don’t know enough about Serbia or its cinema to say otherwise. However, I can understand how it’s meant to be partly a metaphorical statement on the abuse of power, et cetera. There’s certainly a disturbing, all-encompassing feel to the authority figures in this film. It chokes you. This is the atmosphere director Srđan Spasojević conjures up. It feels as if the movie grabs you by the throat and never lets you go. And you can feel how Miloš is being forced to do these awful things. He’s violated and turned into an absolute monster. The men towering above him, lording over him and the contract he has signed, seem larger than life. They are enormous, and evil. It’s actually terrifying, the atmosphere and tone alone. Very frightening. Even some of the less explicit imagery (see: stand-up balloon) is troubling. Regardless of what the director intended specifically, I do feel the abuse of power and authority are evident themes in the film, and they stand out to me most.
If you go into this unprepared there are times where it will really catch you off guard. That being said, it’s best to go into the film without knowing too much about it because there are times when you need to be off guard for the images and themes to truly take hold. It is a jarring, difficult film most times. There are lot of tough things to experience and watch. But if you make it to the end, it can be rewarding. As a true horror fan. In fact, I would say the very end is one of the wildest, most horrific moments I have ever experienced while watching a horror film. It’s highly disturbing, but even more effective.Still unsure about the merit of the film overall. I do like it, as far as anyone can like this movie. A Serbian Film seems to have more in mind than it conveys on the outer surface. Not sure what that happens to be, really.
Right now, I can’t really agree with the director. Even from his explanation of how this film stands as a metaphor for Serbia/its cinema, I can’t see how everything in here is enough to justify it. I can only judge this as a horror film. Based on that alone I’ve given my rating. As of now, A Serbian Film is only a decent horror. But there’s something else in there, and if it’s possible for me to unlock the darkness then there may be a day when this film becomes better than only average. Until then, still recommend seeing it. If you have the fortitude for such skin crawling adventures.