A Serbian Film is one of those movies that is gaining buzz because of the subject material. People are calling it one of those films that after watching, you wish you can un-watch. They’re saying that it’s the most brutal, violent and disturbing film ever made. I was warned by a few people before watching it. They asked me if I was sure I wanted to watch it, because once I did, there was no going back. Perhaps the strongest warning I heard was that the film would ‘rape my soul’.
Well, I’m happy to say that I took the risk and gave the film a watch. And to be perfectly honest, it’s not as bad as people have been making it out to be. Sure it’s violent, disturbing, brutal and definitely not for the little ones but it won’t kill you. In fact, it’s actually a well made film that isn’t afraid to go to some dark places. It is no doubt a rough ride as director Srdjan Spasojevic doesn’t just cross lines, he creates new lines, limits that you never imagined, things you never thought would be committed to celluloid. But if you’re thick skinned, you may want to give this one a try.
The film has been making the rounds at some festivals over the past year or so and it’s already opened in a few markets around the world. But now it’s coming to North America and it’s time to see if this part of the world is ready for it. It will undoubtedly scare off and send many into outrage, but don’t believe everything you hear. A Serbian Film is one of the most effective horror films that we’ve seen in a long time.
Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) is an aging porn star. He’s a legend in the business and is known all over the country. Since retiring he has settled down with his wife and son but he seems to be struggling to make ends meet. He wants the best for his family and when a mysterious job offer comes along, that promises more money than he could ever dream of, he takes it. A man named Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic) is at the head of the job but he won’t tell Milos exactly what it involves. All Milos knows is that he’ll be starring in a film of some kind for Vukmir. As the film starts to shoot, Milos realizes that he’s gotten involved in something very dark and dangerous, something far more terrifying than anyone could hope to be involved in.
It is here that the film sets its ominous and dark tone. Consistently haunting and very bleak, the film establishes a strong, moody atmosphere where you’re constantly on edge. The pacing is near perfect and haunting effects keep you glued to the screen. It’s aberrant and twisted but something about the film is so effective. There are genuine moments of shock and it’s utterly gripping at times. It’s hard to say that the film was enjoyable because the subject matter is quite demented but it is certainly well made.
As mentioned before, the film is becoming notorious for its subject matter. And while it’s not as bad as people are claiming, it’s definitely unsettling. There are a couple things here that you wouldn’t want to watch again and more than a few scenes really push the limits (sometimes limits I never knew existed) but it’s not something that’s going to haunt you for days to come or make you feel physically ill. After all, it’s just a movie. I’ve seen all the supposed ‘disturbing films’ out there. Cannibal Holocaust, Salo, Martyrs, I Spit On Your Grave etc. A Serbian Film is probably darker than the aforementioned titles but not nearly as exploitive. It has a much more serious tone, which is why it’s also more effective.
Director Srdjan Spasojevic also does something else that works quite well. The audience and Milos move at the same pace. We find out things at the same time Milos does. We feel the shock and horror at the same moment as him. We’re not just a witness to these events, we feel like we’re directly involved. Combine that with the perfect pacing, haunting music and sound design, gorgeous cinematography and brilliant performances from Todorovic and Trifunovic and you have a very involving movie. The driving power here is simply extraordinary and the film is a fantastic technical achievement.
As the film pushes to its conclusion, it descends into a personal hell so agonizing, so unspeakable and so unimaginable that as we watch the events unfolding on screen, glued to our seats, we wonder if what we’re seeing is even necessary and furthermore, how anyone even thought of these things. Is Spasojevic being a bit too over-zealous here? Is he biting off more than he can chew? The answer is no. And that’s because nothing ever feels out of context in the film. It never feels sensationalized or exploitive. It all feels necessary to the narrative.
Most people won’t make it to the end of the film. Hell, most people won’t even get started. But if you’re brave enough, you’re in for something very very interesting. It’s astonishingly daring and wildly powerful but it’s a well made film that beneath all the twisted and bizarre content, has some very strong messages. Metaphors are hidden all over and the more you know about Serbia and it’s history, the more you’ll appreciate the movie. The images here are for the most part, not without meaning. It’s an overtly politically and artistically charged film.
Now, there are a few weak spots. Character development isn’t perfect and certain plot points are never fully explained. The script could have used a bit of work and it feels like they might of focused too much on the violence and forgot about some of the basic fundamentals of writing. Still, these are just minor gripes in what is otherwise a well done film. And really, not much of that matters since this film is more about the visuals and sound then the storytelling and plot. It’s more of a cinematic experience.
A Serbian Film will continue to receive buzz once it hits North America, and you’ll undoubtedly be hearing more and more about it in the coming weeks. You’ll hear the warnings, you’ll consider the urges not to watch it and you’ll question if you’re ready for it. And while it abolishes limits, re-defines taboo and commits unspeakable acts to the screen, it’s just a movie. It won’t kill you, it won’t hurt you and if you’ve got a good stomach, then give it a watch. It may be the single most devastating, dark and harrowing movie you’ll ever sit through but I think it should be seen at least once.
Fantastic performances from the two leads make for a very powerful film. A Serbian Film is truly a technical achievement on every count and while It may not be for everyone, if you can stomach it, watch it!
A Serbian Film Review