[Listen, I hate to have to give a disclaimer. I explore many disturbing horror films on this blog and admit that I am willing to watch more “shocking” content than most, hence why I started this blog. I think that many who automatically avoid horror films are missing out on some beautiful and meaningful film making. A Serbian Film has some of the most extreme and upsetting content in any non-snuff film, so even reading about it may upset some. My viewing of this film was the original inspiration to start this blog, in the hopes to share types of film making that most may not have watched because of an initial reactions.
I stand by my positive opinion of this film, which may cause some judgement of me and my film choices. A measure of a good films, especially horror films, are how it affects the viewer and how it makes the viewer connect to the story and the characters. Is this for everyone? Absolutely not. Is it important for me for people to try and understand films they would typically avoid? Absolutely. Read ahead at your own risk.]
The title, A Serbian Film, is innocent enough, almost too simple. I mean, how many films are made in Serbia? The title actually becomes significant later on, and provides a rationale from the filmmaker when he is called on to defend the film. And he should be expected to be defensive; this is considered one of the most extreme films that is not actually pornography or snuff. The film was screened at a few film festivals. Believe it or not, I watched the film in its entirety on YouTube. I guess it takes them a while to catch on to what they consider “disgusting and questionable content.” Is this the typical disgusting content that they mean to ban?
As with most notoriously “unwatchable” films, the widely discussed aspect was the shocking parts of it. And it is not for the weak: up front, I may as well mention that “newborn porn”is a concept that is introduced. A father is tricked into sodomizing his own son. Women are raped then killed on film. It’s like throwing depraved people in the room and asking them what the most depraved acts are and putting them in the film. I thought I had seen it all, and then the epilogue of the film, believe it or not, actually kicks the craziness up a notch- but I’m getting ahead of myself.
A Serbian Film is not a totally depraved film. In isolation, the acts depicted are, but here we have a “whole is greater than the sum of its parts” situation. Surely the content contained will most certainly keep many at bay that may actually be its strongest supporters. Above all, this is not a “shock horror” film. It is a modern noir, and one that is done well.
To the film’s credit, the disturbing perpetrated by the film’s antagonist, a porn director who will stop at nothing to get his film’s made, so the film acknowledges that the depraved acts are “wrong.” The fact that the acts are shown negates this view, and once again I bring back the same argument: even though the film denounces these acts, is the fact that they are shown already an endorsement of it? I still don’t have a clear opinion on this.
Is the disturbing content necessary to be shown for this story to be told? Yes, in the world that is set up by the film, it is necessary to tell the story. The first half of the film is building the character of Milos, acted quite well by Srđan Todorović
The tension begins with a visit to filmmaker Vumir, encouraged by his former “colleague” in the porn world. Vumir wants Milos for his raw animal behavior, and his ability to become aroused on command. Milos is torn, but is drawn by the money. His first assignment is to meet at an abandoned elementary school (he probably should have taken that as a MAJOR red flag), where is is greeted by a formally-dressed woman who leads him down a hallway to an empty room where she fellates him while he watches a video monitor showing a young girl eating a popsicle, all while a soundless film crew captures it. It’s bizarre and is just the tip of the iceberg regarding sexuality of minors, and it’s done in a way that is completely unflinching that would make Stanley Kubrick…proud?
Milos, despite agreeing to do the film, is understandably uncomfortable, but is still coerced into more and more uncomfortable situations. Eventually, he has the will power to say no, but Vikmurwon’t take it. This leads to Milos being drugged and kidnapped and now forced against his will to perform, making him a victim of the film. From here, the film turns into a “how much crazy stuff can we show?” and a suspense/horror film different from the eery, meandering noir of before. He is forced to rape and kill several women, all while being filmed by an unflinching film crew. At this point Milos is merely an animal, a puppet controlled by Vumir and his crew.
The final horror of the film is that Milos is “tricked” into raping both his wife and son, who have also been kidnapped. His brother, who has always been jealous of his wife, is also present and involved in the rape, because…why not make it the worst possible scenario ever? His wife is able to overcome the rapists and captors, and a bloodbath ensues, resulting in the gruesome death of the filmmakers. In such a story, death for Vumir is really the only way the audience could still hang on to this story, although his death of course doesn’t bring total justice after the realization of what Milos has done. Milos escapes with his family.
Sure, the actual acts are disturbing, but here’s where the real horror lies: the family are living with the knowledge of what just happened and have to figure out a way to go on. To me, this is more disturbing to watch than the actual acts. A gut wrenching silent witness to this results in the suicide pact, with Milos shooting himself and his family in bed. Is there any other way this film can end? Believe me, their suicide is a relief for character and audience.
Not content with the level of grotesque we’ve witnessed, the film’s epilogue portrays a man (briefly seen earlier at Vumir’s compound) entering the room with his own film crew, unbuckling his trousers, and says “let’s start with the little one.” with the intention of sexual intercourse with the dead bodies of the family. Even for myself, who knew fully well f what I was getting into, had an audible “WTF” moment at this. I had been though hell in back with the film’s events, and it still managed to shock me at the end. That’s pretty admirable. It’s also pretty clever- I gotta hand it to him. If he was gonna do this film, then he was gonna make this film. Why hold back on a film where all boundaries are crossed? It would almost be hypocritical.
For objective film making, there’s a lot to praise: the subtle character acting, the cinematography of the lush quarters and the soundtrack paired to the moment is compelling. The over-evolving debate about a movie containing such morally depraved materials is essential why it is needed, and if it is there for shock’s sake- the often criticism of so-called “torture porn”. My argument would be that yes, this was necessary for the film’s vision. The visceral reaction from the audience justifies the final acts.
The horror of the acts is necessary for us to believe that this family is horribly broken. There is no redemption for them, they committed no acts that deserve this. Even Milos’ past career in pornography is not vilified. What are the questions that arise? There is not much. The journey with the character into deeper depths is what is compelling. It is credit to the acting of Milos and his wife that makes the viewer on the side of the protagonist.
There is no way I would ever convince your average every day movie-goer to see this film, nor would I make someone watch it for the sole reason to just shock them. But, in the rules of film making, A Serbian Film hits all the landmarks of what it sets out to achieve, and succeeds at modern noir and suspense. My hope is that this filmmaker and actors are able to make more films in the future, but this time in a way that the films will be a bit more appealing to a wider audience.