After letting “A Serbian Film” resonate with me for a few days, I sat down to try and decide just how I would tackle this beast. What can I explain to you that you haven’t probably already read about the film? And just how do I review a film that is virtually unreviewable? I refer to it as unreviewable because there isn’t a really good way to say to someone “if you are into drug-induced incestuous rape, snuff films, skull-fucking and newborn porn(!), then this flick is for YOU!”. For a majority of horror fans, this film will go too far. For a lot of the pretentious film fans who see it, they’ll refer to it as deliberately exploitative. Then, there are the “me’s” of the world-I am the type of film fan that has to see these movies when they’re released. I’ve spent a lifetime in search of the most horrible films I can find. For the most part, I’ve seen all the movies that people regard as vile. Personally, I don’t think art should be safe. A film needs to burn itself into my mind and kind of torture me. This may not be the healthiest mental attitude to have toward films, but after a life spent watching horror, exploitation and all their deformed children, I need the punch in the mouth a fucked up movie gives me.
This is where my dilemma leads me to. A standard review will divulge almost too much information about the key aspects of the plot and I don’t want to ruin it (if that’s possible…?) for anyone who’s anticipating seeing the film. However, I feel it should be said, the further I get away from viewing the movie, the more I respect it and the film’s first time director, Srdjan Spasojevic (who also was a co-writer of the script). Last year’s French juggernaut “Martyrs”, was my favorite film of the year. Pascal Laugier’s film takes you through an emotional torture chamber that leaves an open wound. Can I say the same for A Serbian Film? No, not at all. For all intensive purposes, it has absolutely no redeeming qualities (a fact I had to face after watching it and having our own Zach Shildwachter pose that exact question to me.) and when the credits roll, your left holding your own entrails that are pouring out of this stab wound. No happy endings here, just grim conclusions. The same can be said for Martyrs, technically. However, the huge difference is that Martyrs had the ability to make you ache for the characters. You hurt for them. Milos, the main character in ASF (brilliantly played by veteran Serbian actor, Srdjan Todorovic.), was a piece of shit who now has a family, but is still too fucked emotionally to do his job correctly. His former life as a porn star affects who he was, is, and will never be. To take this new role in a “high art porn” will give his family so much money, but at what cost? The cost ends up being too much. Still, everyone suffered for the art and went beyond conventional methods to make this art. The combination of the misery of the characters and the gruesome (and I mean GRUESOME!) visuals will prove to be too much for the casual film goer and will even test the staunchest of horror fans.
When I watched the movie, I watched it with my beloved wife. Ashley loves film the same as I do. We definitely have differing opinions on film, but tend to enjoy a lot of the same things. A Serbian film was NOT one of those films, however. To say her reaction was strong is an understatement. Our post-film conversation proved to be fairly trying. In hindsight, we should’ve just went with our original plan that night. El Topo was in the DVD player…I could’ve watched ASF myself. Nope-it ended up being A Serbian Film. She was upset. She was upset that the film was made and that the filmmakers would hide behind the “bullshit guise of a socio-political metaphor to make an unwatchable movie”. See? Not my best decision. Still, that conversation sparked an idea that you’re about to read. As I stated previously, ASF is unreviewable. So, rather than give you the same ol’, same ol’ that you can get off of some other lame website, I decided to transcribe a conversation between my wife and I discussing the film to give you the non-insane person’s viewpoint. For the record, she’s not insane-I am.
Wes: Okay, so A Serbian Film…
Wes: You were pretty upset by that movie.
Ash: EXTREMELY upset.
Wes: You’ve seen other “extreme films”-
Ash: Yeah, Yeah I have…
Wes: Name some of the more intense ones you’ve watched with me.
Ash: Um…Cannibal Holocaust, that autopsy movie-
Ash: Yeah. August Underground’s Mordum-
Wes: The Girl Next Door?
Ash: That one didn’t bother me that much.
Wes: So, why was A Serbian Film different? What’s the difference?
Ash: I don’t really think there is a difference. I just really, really didn’t like it. I found it disgusting-the ending was too much. That’s the long and short of it. It went too far.
Wes: How is that movie going too far? In Aftermath, there’s necrophilia, in Cannibal Holocaust, there’s rape and cannibalism-why do say it’s too far?
Ash: It was the kid-
Wes: The kid or the kids?
Ash: I guess the kids. The baby scene doesn’t count. That was one of the phoniest things I’ve ever seen but the kid-that was like “are you kidding?” It’s too much.
Wes: So, kids are totally off limits?
Ash: NO, not necessarily…um, I guess maybe in that way, in a sexual way-
Wes: Wait, wait, wait-you considered that sexual?! I didn’t…
Ash: How did you not?! He fucked his own son?
Wes: But it wasn’t sexual-
Ash: I don’t mean THAT was sexual…it wasn’t glorifying it but it made it “okay”. It allowed them to push that limit. Going after the one thing that “no one” has seen. That’s what it’s going to be? That’s disgusting.
Wes: I’m not saying it’s okay or that I agree with it. But you understand art as well as anyone I know-
Ash: That’s not art!
Wes: How is that not art?!
Ash: Art isn’t meant to be harmful to people!
Wes: Your favorite John Waters movies are like, Female Trouble, Pink Flamingos, etc. You view those as art-
Ash: (annoyed) yes…
Wes: Hold on-before you get mad at me. In Pink Flamingos, what happens to that fucking chicken?
Ash: That’s a chicken, not a child.
Wes: Still, you said art shouldn’t be harmful…
Ash: Harmful to people. I don’t know, they kill that turtle in Cannibal Holocaust too, and that bothers me…I don’t know.
Wes: I guess my question is, if that’s real, and that scenes in ASF, are not…what makes those worse?
Ash: The kids!!! The children-all I could think about it is our son. It’s not…being a parent puts things in a different perspective. Knowing that that’s thought of and that it’s being made bothers me.
Wes: The film is obviously a metaphor for political tyranny in that area of the world.
Ash: I am not familiar with that part of the world so I guess I don’t get that. If that’s what is considered “okay” in that part of the world…I don’t even know.
Wes: I don’t think it was done saying it’s okay-
Ash: (interrupting) It was still made! It was still okay to make that!
Wes: Would you categorize this movie as the worst film you’ve ever seen?
Ash: Yes. I don’t want to watch movies with you any longer. If that’s how it’s going to be…if that’s what they have to do to shock people, if that’s what “horror” is going to become then I don’t want any part of it. You can do what you do, and I’ll just stick to the ones I like.
Wes: Now, the reality is you KNOW that this isn’t the average film. You’re aware that it’s only really being covered by the horror world because of it’s excessive nature. Having said that, there are still plenty of horror films that you like.
Wes: And there are movies that you’ll still enjoy.
Ash: I hope so!
Wes: What would you say to the director if you had the chance to say something?
Ash: I probably wouldn’t say anything. Because, what am I gonna do? The movie’s already been made. I won’t change a single thing.
Wes: Okay, can you at least see that the effect of the movie works?
Ash: I guess…if that’s what they were going for. If, you know, average fans, not just horror-only fans (pauses)… People like me shouldn’t go anywhere near this movie.
Wes: Do you think it’s something horror fans should see?
Ash: I don’t think anyone should see it. I don’t think we should’ve seen it and I’m disgusted that we sat here and watched it but if, I guess, that’s what you need to see to be “shocked” then that’s what you’ll get. I hope you feel good about yourself for having watched something so disgusting.
Wes: How do you feel about being married and having a child with somebody who needs to see things like this to be shocked (laughing)?
Ash: (laughing) I’m used to it, but I don’t wanna partake in it anymore.
Wes: That’s fair. Okay, so final thoughts on A Serbian Film from a very open-minded, pro-art person…give it to me.
Ash: I hated it. I thought it was disgusting and just awful. Any movie that could make me feel that disgusted…and, I don’t know…just talking about it makes me wanna cry.
Ash: Yeah…it was that bad.
Wes: I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I asked you to watch it.
Ash: I’m really truly sorry that I DID watch it.
It’s not clear whether this film will be as highly sought after as “The Human Centipede” (which falls far short of it’s mark in hype.) but one thing is for certain-it does exceed it’s predecessor (s) in sheer shock value. We’re always quick to tag a film as the “most shocking film ever made”. We always want to make sure that we’ve bumped “that” movie up onto the top of the heap. What’s not certain, is how small the window is between these films now. Before, it would happen every 5-10 years but now, the window is closing. We’ve gone from 10 years, to once a year, and now 2 within the span of a few months. In this quest to outdo the previous shockfest, have we lost a bit of our humanity? I mean that-I am all for the suspension of disbelief, but sometimes it’s not as easy to walk away from. A movie sticking with you for the wrong reasons isn’t good for everybody. It doesn’t work for everyone. Look at my wife: This film genuinely ruined something for her. The good thing about this, is the proof that if it bothers you, you’re still human. Your more decent aspects of your personality will out, and you think “wow, that’s truly fucked up and I don’t EVER want to be a part of that ever again”. It keeps you from becoming a cyborg, completely disaffected by the bleakest places in our minds.
A Serbian Film is going to be polarizing audiences. It’s going to get terrible reviews, glowing reviews from the obvious places, and will undoubtedly flabbergast each audience it plays to…and then it will go away. Something else will come along and we’ll all be dry heaving through each horrid, dispicable scene. There’s plenty of evil shit here that we haven’t seen yet. So, until the next guy come along with “the most shocking film of all time”, we’ll all keep shitting blood over this Serbian assault force. It’s justified…and sure as hell not for everyone.
Tags: A Serbian Film, Aftermath, August Underground's Mordum, Cannibal Holocaust, El Topo, exploitation, Female Trouble, Horror, John Waters, Martyrs, Pascal Laugier, Pink Flamingos, The Girl Next Door, Zach Shildwachter