I really don’t know what to make of A Serbian Film. It may be the first film that I truly consider to be “torture porn” (a terminology I all but reject for horror movies, with the partial exception of the dreadful flick The Collector. Yes, I’m someone who has and will argue the merit of the Saw franchise and films like Hostel and Wolf Creek), since it’s very much obsessed with torture and porn, often at the same time. On the one hand, I do want to support the idea of an artist being able to tell a symbolic story in any way that they see fit, but on the other hand, at what point do they cross the line and make something that edges towards being reprehensible? I don’t have the answers, and I’d never suggest that co-writer/director Srdjan Spasojevic has done anything morally wrong here, but I can’t get over the feeling that so much the extremism in the movie is unnecessary. For those in the dark about this film, it’s gained some notoriety for its graphic depictions of rough sex, pornography, pedophilia, necrophilia, incest, and sexual violence in general. The movie pulls no punches, and will disgust many. I’d be willing to give it a pass if it told a worthwhile tale or if the symbolism was better integrated, but it’s neither. The film fails not because it’s disgusting, but because it’s just not a good film. Cross Hostel with Salo and add a pinch of the essence of a snuff film, and you’re headed down the path that this film goes down.
The plot is a take-off on the “one last job” type of action movies we all know and love. Here, instead of an assassin or military man called in for a final hurrah, it’s a retired porn star. Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) is out of the business in which he was considered a legend, home with his wife and young son. He has no desire to return to the industry, but is lured back in by a sleazy director named Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic) with promises of one final payday to allow him to be comfortable for life. Vukmir is a big fan of Milos, and aims to star him in a revolutionary new type of porn, shot right there in Serbia. What starts out seeming like any other low rent skin flick quickly gets disturbing, as a young girl is brought in the picture and the level of violence combined with the sex increases. When Milos wants out, Vukmir shows him just what he has in mind for this new wave of porn (I won’t even say what it is), and then drugs him. Waking up a few days later, Milos must piece together just what abhorrent things he was made to do without his consent, and each time he has a new recollection, we see the film hit a new low. Ultimately, it devolves into a Hostel like fight for survival, but by that time, it’s questionable how many people will still be watching.
It’s impossible to judge the acting in a work like this. Aside from Todorovic and Trifunovic, no one gets much screen time, and those who do are mostly on hand to be naked and tortured in various ways. As for Todorovic, it’s a brave performance; I can say that without doubt, just one more invested in shock value than emotion. Trifunovic is a foaming at the mouth villain by the third act, but he does appear to be chewing the scenery well. The content of the film is so rough; the performances are lost in translation.
Director Spasojevic, working with a script he wrote with Aleksandar Radivojevic, is not an untalented filmmaker. The visuals are impressive, if brutal. He paces the movie very well, keeping things disturbing but relatively tame for the first act, before creeping closer to the edge in the second act, and just bathing in the filth in the final act. The main issue with the film is the script, which is rather piss-poor. The reasoning for all of this (a commentary on how Serbia and its people has been symbolically raped for years) is clumsily interwoven, and after a while it appears like it’s just thrown in at random to keep from making people too angry. The filmmakers are obviously angry and want to make a point, but the utterly fail at it. The more controversial acts in the flick are so out there they’d almost be campy if the film wasn’t so grim. But it is, and you’ll feel like you need a shower by the end of it.
As a side note, there are multiple versions of this film out in the world. The original and completely unedited cut isn’t currently available (it’ll be on DVD), but there’s a decently edited NC-17 version (can you believe it had to be edited to get that rating?) playing in theaters and an almost unedited version available on demand. I took the hit and saw both versions. Even the tamest one is still going to reduce many a viewer to tears, so be warned.
A Serbian Film is one of the worst movies I’ve seen this year, not because I’m a prude (I’m far from it and may be one of the bigger fans of horror in this field), but because it’s completely inept at giving any of the atrocities in the film a point. What little bit of symbolism there is doesn’t nearly justify the awful things you’ll see in this work. That all being said, I’ll qualify my review by saying that this is something that has to be seen to truly be believed. I’d never recommend it, but if you’ve got a strong stomach and a morbid curiosity for just how low things can go, this is something to observe at some point, almost in a sociological way. As a film, it’s just dreadful though.
Much like the past two “controversial” horror films to come out in years past (The Human Centipede: First Sequence and Antichrist), the talk and hyperbole ends up being more interesting than the film. This is among the most graphic films I’ve ever seen, and also one of the worst.