Several months ago, Srdjan Spasojevic's Serbian Movie started to circulate at festivals. Harry Knowles wrote a histrionic review that placed it on the must-see lists of hardcore horror fanatics. Other scribes discussed its extreme nature and went nuts hyping its taboo-breaking content. Some even questioned its reason for existing.
The usual clichéd response to films with inflammatory intent is Why do we need to see this? It's a stupid question because the answer is we don't. Then again, we don't NEED to see Disney movies, either, or TV shows about crab fishermen risking their lives. We NEED to eat, sleep, drink, and breathe. Everything else is secondary.
Hysterics aside, Serbian Movie was clearly made to shock and provoke because it doesn't offer too much else. 99.9% of humans will find it objectionable and offensive and will stay away. The rest, like me, will let their curiosity get the better of them.
The film is very technically polished. The compositions and lighting are on par with any American horror film in the Hostel budget range. The acting is decent, too. The film's lead (Sergej Trifunovic), who plays an ex-porno actor lured back into the business, bears a strange resemblance to Euro porn actor/director Christophe Clarke, and has a laconic, laid back manner that works well for his character. The film's villain (Srdjan Todorovic), a philosophy-spewing porno "artist", looks like a younger, better manicured Coffin Joe. The lead's wife, who is accepting of her husband's profession, is played with quiet authority by Katarina Zutic. Finally, the couple's son, who plays quite a special role in the film, is particularly impressive as an unfortunate young victim of demented minds.
Some of our favorite horror films are notable for extreme set pieces. Emmanuelle in America has a ripper, as do Salo, Cannibal Holocaust, and In A Glass Cage. Serbian Movie definitely deserves to be placed alongside these for its extremity and perversion. One set piece in particular, involving a newborn, is the film's most harrowing. Clearly, no real infant was harmed, but the single angle and sound effects create a very disturbing ninety seconds you won't soon forget. Other horrors include an eye socket being penetrated with an erect penis and two unidentified bodies being carnally assaulted.
Horror in its purest sense allows us to confront the unspeakable in the safe environment of the cinema or home. Serbian Movie definitely dishes up the unspeakable and does so with style and solid craftsmanship. Although you will find material such as this in the literary works of authors such as Edward Lee, Marquis De Sade, and JF Gonzalez, cinematic representations are, not surprisingly, not as common.
Unfortunately, the Serbian Movie script is a little undercooked, and its depiction of organized perversion amongst the elite is not entirely believable. The villain, who not only looks like Coffin Joe, spouts philosophy like him, too. In this case, it's porno philosophy. This nut bag sees 'newborn porn' as the future of the genre, and carries on up the Khyer about love, art, and blood ad nausea. Perhaps expressing the filmmaker's view, he says of Serbia: "...this is no country for real art." On porn, he offers: "(it exists) so those who can't get laid can come." Without a doubt, his most salient observation is: "'Victim sells." No horror fan can dispute that.
What separates Serbian Movie, however, from a true masterwork such as Augustin Villaronga's In A Glass Cage are several things, the primary one being substance. Although its montages of public porno culture suggest that sexualized commercialization is out of control, this thesis is not explored beyond a headline, and it's a stretch to link sexually provocative billboards to horrors such as baby rape and the raping of beheaded women. The gulf between the two is vast.
Ultimately for the viewer, the film is an exercise in waiting for the next shocking set piece that will up the perversion ante. The bits between these are not of zero interest, but they're not exactly vital, either, and there's some narrative confusion in the final quarter as the lead character lurches about in a drug-induced haze.
Even after the final shocking revelation, a closing slice of dialog takes the perversion even further, bluntly re-stating the film's ultimate intentions.
As my brain cooled hours later after the experience, I felt like I'd eaten very greasy, slightly poisonous junk food. This contrasted with my initial reaction to John McNaughton's Henry - Portrait of a Serial Killer, another flick notable for its shocking content, but appreciated for its solid scripting, amazing performances, and characterization. Henry left me with the feeling that I'd seen something very special. Serbian Movie didn't feel special, but it sure felt like raw and courageous cinema.
Director Srdjan Spasojevic's Life and Death of a Porno Gang, his first feature, is well worth checking out, too, and I will discuss it shortly.
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