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A Serbian Film (Srdjan Spasojevic, 2010)
Just when you think youíve sat through all of the perversion that the horror genre has to offer, along comes Srdjan Spasojevicís A Serbian Film to reveal that there are still boundaries waiting to be pushed. Putting the porn back into the torture porn genre, this already notorious debut film plunges into sexual situations that are sure to upset the vast majority of its audience. Things begin, if not innocuously, at least domestically as the first scene shows a family handling a small crisis that arises when a young boy is caught watching a porn film (which just happens to be starring his father). Little does this clan know that thatís the least of the pain that will be inflicted upon them by the time this uniquely twisted film wraps. Starting out with what is likely its most mundane outrage, A Serbian Film has plenty more in store to make viewers uncomfortable.
For its first hour, at the very least, A Serbian Film is closer in tone to a film directed by David Lynch than Eli Roth (the mood is in the territory of Blue Velvet or Lost Highway). Its plot, shrouded in mystery, takes a while to reveal itself. In it, a famed male porn actor comes out of retirement for one last, secretive shoot with the promise of a big payday. He accepts the assignment without finding out what he will be asked to do, learning only that he will be performing for an elite, anonymous clientele. This scenario, combined with the Balkan setting, immediately brings to mind the Hostel movies, but that seriesí snuff film aspirations are only a mild hint at the level of perversion at work here. The scenarios contained in A Serbian Film, involving rape, pedophilia, S&M, and murder, will likely inspire many walkouts at any theater brave enough to show the movie.
Because of its unapologetic handling of extreme subject matter, A Serbian Film is sure to be dismissed out of hand by many as morally reprehensible, but thereís a certain earnestness here that makes the film harder to shake than if it were interested in mere exploitation. The frank talks that the characters have with their son make the familyís love real enough that its ultimate violation is unsettling. Similarly, the titleís implication that Serbiaís national identity, and perhaps its greatest exports, are based in pure suffering, is more disturbing than any makeup effects could manage to be. To Spasojevicís credit, he stages many of his most horrific scenes at a remove, as the protagonist reviews a collection of videos on a camcorder. Similarly, much of the climax is presented as an extended, punctuated flashback. Most members of the audience will likely be grateful for the distance from this subject matter that these framing devices provide.
When A Serbian Film finally comes to a close, it will have likely presented viewers with an experience that they will not soon shake. The movie is not so much frightening or suspenseful as it is perverse and atmospheric. Its twisted political commentary and outlandish visual tortures are likely to linger in the mind long after it ends. As a horror film, it edges out recent outrages like Header and Bad Biology in the gross-out sweepstakes. More importantly, however, it handily surpasses either in dredging up emotional turmoil, to no small part due to the extended political allegory it offers. A striking debut work, it comes recommended to adventurous viewers who are not easily offended.