As you've probably read in a dozen other reviews of this already notorious film, one doesn't simply watch A Serbian Film passively, they experience it. It seems redundant at this point to post a detailed synopsis. So, what exactly is this experience like? Let me provide you with an appropriate anecdotal analogy.
Watching A Serbian Film is like being at a socially awkward party where you know you don't belong and aren't welcome. You don't know anyone around you and you're left standing in the corner drinking by yourself. And by doing that, you've further alienated yourself so much that the chances of getting any phone numbers from a member of the opposite sex are now impossible.
Soon enough, a few other drunken social outcasts have gathered around in the same corner also drinking in silence. Someone starts to make light chit chat. Everyone is getting a bit tipsy and the conversation is starting to die out already. Finally, someone makes a dirty joke, the best start for communal male bonding.
Everyone is now sharing their own jokes and as these things generally go, they get dirtier and dirtier the longer you go at it. Everyone is trying to upstage each other in a competition to tell the dirtiest, sickest joke.
You're getting more and more enthusiastic as the jokes get worse. You go from telling the routine sex jokes to gross prostitute jokes to Jesus jokes to offensive gay jokes. Things ramp up to pedophile jokes until you finally reach to dreaded dead baby jokes.
You and your fellow loner friends are getting loud. Everyone else at the party can now hear you as they eavesdrop on your anti social behavior. Not only are you not going to get laid tonight, but now you probably won't be invited back to another party.
Then, finally, someone tells the nastiest, grossest, most tasteless dead baby joke imaginable.
Q: What do you get when you shoot a baby in the head?
A: An erection.
One person spits their beer out from laughing so hard, but after a few seconds, everyone immediately goes silent. An awkward stillness sets in and your group slowly part ways.
That's pretty much what it's like to sit through A Serbian Film. But wait, this is supposedly an intelligent outcry against the pornography industry and the social political climate of Serbia today. Unfortunately, the film is all sound and fury. Whatever blunt message is buried within is lost amongst all of the needlessly horrific imagery. So let's amend the joke to better suit the tone of the film.
Q: What do you get when you shoot the baby of (insert controversial politician name here) in the head?
A: A bloody erection because you've just fucked the bullet hole since the baby's father was a corrupt bastard.
Outside of the outlandish, almost fetishistic violence, it is important to note that A Serbian Film is an impeccably well directed film with a level of polish that's surprising. There are moments and scenes that could be compared to some of even Hitchcock's best work.
The story follows Milos, a devoted father, husband, and retired porn star duped into starring in one last film. He will be paid a sum that will make set him for the rest of his days. The catch is that he can never know what the film is about. Guess what it turns out to be? It's one big fucked up snuff film filled with incest. The Serbian government is filled with whores who've fucked their countrymen. So the director of this radical new wave art porn showcases a drug crazed man forced to beat, torture, and murder women. He rapes their young daughters and even worse.
There's a scene early on during Milos's first day of filming that is so eerie and masterfully directed, it makes all of the violent sex & gore to follow feel like a letdown. Milos is lead through an abandoned Orphanage for mentally handicapped children by a group of stoic cameramen following his every move. What Milos encounters suggests some unimaginably horrible things. It's a scene of eerie ambiguity that carries far more weight and power than watching a newborn infant being raped. And yes, that happens.
Even the negative reviews for this film have stayed away from mentioning the unmentionable images. It seems counterproductive, critics lambasting the film for its content yet refusing to discuss it which only builds on people's morbid curiosity. If you don't want to have anything further spoiled, stop reading.
In this film, you will watch a woman have her teeth knocked out and then suffocated by way of oral sex in an extreme close up. You will see the aforementioned infant rape. You will see a preteen boy anally raped until he bleeds. You will watch a man get blown by a battered woman while watching a 10 year old girl suck a popsicle. You will see a man kill another by fucking his hollowed out eye socket, a literal skull fucking. There's absolutely zero justification for the brutality that's showcased here.
There are plenty of primitive statements being made about the pornography industry, the lustful, violent nature of man and what not, but it's all sophomoric. This is not a Salo. The film's supporters have claimed it's meant to be about something but are generally unable to describe what that is beyond, "Serbia's fucked up." The film's politicizing is much closer to the juvenile antics of Martyrs. This is neither fun, nor suspenseful, nor insightful. The context is understandable. This is an angry film born from a nation that has seen suffering that is incomprehensible for Americans. But so what?
This review is not a proposal to have the film banned or censored. It just wasn't really worth it for this critic. It didn't leave any indelible scars on my psyche like others. In the wake of the internet and websites like 4chan, it's hard to be physically sickened by a fictional film. But if the goal of the writer and director was to make the audience feel outraged about Serbian history and politics, they failed. This is an over the top analogy that gives no direct indication of what it is that the audience should specifically feel outraged towards. I merely felt frustrated and left the theater with a bad aftertaste, and it certainly wasn't from the whiskey. I brought some good stuff this time around.
For all of the flamers that are bound to attack this review, I'd like to cite The Life & Death of a Porno Gang in my defense. This is a film you've probably also read a lot about in these pages. It also deals with similar themes and features plenty of shocking images, but it's a film that works on so many more levels. And I will even admit that there were two scenes which were emotionally powerful enough to bring me to tears.
I do believe that shocking and taboo material can be used to make a point. It could be argued that A Serbian Film is punk. But there are different variations of punk. There are the Bad Brains and classic Bad Religions and then there's the GG Allens and The Causalities. Do you want to rally people for a cause or do you simply want to get drunk, whip your dick out in public, and spit in a stranger's eye for no discernible reason?
I've seen A Serbian Film twice now, once sober with a screener, and now drunk in a theater. I was curious to see if the film would become a comedy with enough alcohol. That didn't happen. Although, the skull fucking is so damn silly I couldn't help but chuckle a little.
I did come to further appreciate the technicality of the film more so the second time around. The art direction, cinematography, and sound design are all top notch. The audience around me seemed to feel largely indifferent though. More people walked out during the short film, Oil Change which preceded the feature. The fact that the film's hypnotic, hard hitting techno theme song was played at an after party which elicited jokes and laughter should tell you exactly how most are actually reacting to this.
But this is probably a pointless review. You already know if you want to see this. Once again, it's just like telling jokes at a party. Once it gets going, there's no stopping it until someone finally takes it too far, which I guess was probably the entire point to begin with.