So apparently THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE is no longer the most disturbing film of 2010…
A SERBIAN FILM has been shocking and flabbergasting audiences in the festival circuit this summer and for good reason, it features some grisly set pieces and sequences that have caused people to both condemn it for audacity and praise it for its satirical and political messages. I had to see it for myself and now that I have, I see what the big deal is. I also see the movie what it truly is: A missed opportunity.
Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) is a retired Serbian porn star trying to go legit with a Swedish interpreter wife and a 10-ish year-old son. He can’t seem to get a break, so he takes the odd skin flick job to help pay the bills. One of his scumbag ex-co-stars gives him a lead on a supposed well-funded filmmaker offering Milos an exorbitant amount of cash to make an arthouse porn film. This crazed filmmaker, named Vukmir Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic), explains to Milos that the cash agreement will be honored as long as Milos enters the scenes without a script or prior knowledge of what they are about. Milos must then improv his way through the scene. Though uncomfortable with the conditions, Milos cannot turn down the money, so he agrees. The scenes start off mildly disturbing, then escalate to violent and illegal. When Milos learns the vile truth behind Vukmir’s film, he quits. Milos then suddenly awakes several days later, covered in blood and finds his family is missing. He returns to Vukmir’s set to search for them and learns the horrifying truth behind his mysterious blackout.
Sound predictable? It is, especially if you try to imagine the worst imaginable outcome for every situation Milos finds himself in. This fact, along with some very cartoonish and over-the-top scenes of grue, never allows the viewer to take the film too seriously. However, the bleak and dead-serious ending really raises this film above the sleaze that permeates it through the first two acts…
But let us talk about the not-so-serious parts first. This movie cakes on the sleaze like Tony Montana snorts cocaine. There is no moderation here. Every line that comes out of each and every characters’ mouth is either explicit, gross or wrong. This causes a two-fold effect: 1. Discomfort. 2. Laughter. How can you take a character (like Vukmir) seriously when he constantly hails porn as the highest form of art there is?
Speaking of Vukmir, I know where the inspiration of his character comes from. The legendary Brazilian director José Mojica Marins, famous for his hypnotically perverse COFFIN JOE (aka Zé do Caixão) horror films, was well known for gleefully putting his actors/crew in mortal danger and pushing the boundaries of good taste. He was, and still is, notorious for going into long, sanctimonious speeches about how his work is “high art” and “the pride of Brazil” and he refused to let it be compromised or censored. Vukmir mirrors Marins exactly in energy, creepiness, arrogance and politics. Vukmir figures that since Serbia has such a bad reputation for its recent violence, ethnic cleansing, death squads and such, why not make atrocities the art and pride of the country?
This is where Milos comes in. Vukmir figures Milos is the king of the sleaze genre in Serbia. He lavishes Milos with compliments on everything from his performances to his body parts. Vukmir lays it on so thick that even Milos himself can’t take it seriously and asks his cop brother to investigate Vukmir before he will agree to work with him. Even when the gruesome scenes kick in, they are presented with such cheesy excess, you could add a laugh-track to the audio and it would suddenly become another tasteless “TROMA” horror comedy… Except for the ending.
The atrocities presented in this film are what gives the film its notoriety. I’d compare A SERBIAN FILM closely to Cronenberg’s VIDEODROME and Roth’s HOSTEL. Both mix politics with hardcore torture and in the case of HOSTEL, it also uses Serbia as a setting in which the worst imaginable things can happen to anyone anywhere. This is where A SERBIAN FILM manages a shred of validity by pointing out the sickness within its own borders and the fear that it might completely infect the country and consume it completely. The film is designed as a dark fable, a warning to its citizens and government not to become the crazed, bloodthirsty villains the world perceives them to be. It is for this reason alone that A SERBIAN FILM is receiving any good word of mouth at all.
Of course that message is going way over the heads of some viewers who simply can’t get past the extreme violence and sexual assault the film showcases to get its point across. In fact, the Frightfest Film Festival in London created a stir, not by screening the film, but by at first accepting the film and then refusing to screen it at the last minute. Not the case with American fest screenings which have shown the film with little fuss.
As a cinematic barometer, A SERBIAN FILM is a slightly disturbing indicator. The fact that a filmmaker has created such a graphic and taboo film and has successfully gauged the boundaries of what even a jaded critic/horror fan can stomach gives us a hint as to what may be on the horror film horizon. Without a doubt some fledgeling filmmaker out there has just seen this film and is thinking, “I can top that.” And he (or she) probably will. I’d say A SERBIAN FILM is a giant leap forward in the audacity of horror filmmaking and may herald even more excess and offense to come. I predict the next film to push this boundary will be entirely pornographic, a line that this one (almost surprisingly) did not cross.
One aspect of the controversy surrounding A SERBIAN FILM disturbs me the most. When his film was pulled from Frightfest, unfortunately director Spasojevic gave this unfortunate response: “This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government. It’s about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotise you to do things you don’t want to do. You have to feel the violence to know what it’s about.” I like all of that quote except for the last part. Maybe I’m reading the context of it wrong, but I really hate that “you can’t possibly understand because you’re not Serbian” attitude. I’m sure Spasojevic realizes that many (smart) people do get it but a statement like that sounds a tad bit sanctimonious, especially given the content of his film.
As the character Bianca Oblivion said in the film VIDEODROME regarding a sleazy cable station’s defensive statement in regards to showing porn and violence… “You said a lot of superficial things.” It’s obvious to the analyzing viewer that A SERBIAN FILM goes beyond superficiality. It sends mixed messages and many of its graphic scenes come across as cheesy but its political message is important. Then there’s that ending… That bleak, unforgiving ending that haunted me to the core. It’s the ending which finally forced me to take this film seriously. In the last 5 minutes it no longer imitated HOSTEL where the protagonists gets his revenge and he escapes with his life (until the sequel). In this grim (not Grimm’s) fairy tale ending, the high cost of the tragedy leaves only one solution for one of the parties… and a irresistible opportunity for another. I admired the intensity of this bleak finale and felt that it negated most of the overcooked cheesiness presented in the film’s more graphic moments. If the film had somehow been able to capture that quiet depression early on instead of the manic/wacky tone that pervades most of its runtime, A SERBIAN FILM could have been a true masterpiece.
I’m giving the film itself 3 and 1/2 stars, but 5 stars for an ending I simply can’t get out of my head.
Man, I was gonna post a trailer on the site but it was just TOO graphic. Go to YouTube and look it up for yourself…
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