Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Serbian Film (2010)

I finally got around to watching this infamous thing last night.
Late last night.
Going by the images I'd seen (all 2 of them) I figured I didn't want anyone walking into the room while I had it on. I'm a horror fan lost in a sea of... people who don't like horror movies... and this surely wasn't going to convert them.
I'd purposefully kept myself in the dark about this movie because I wanted to keep any surprises intact. All I knew going in was that it was about some evil folks making a snuff film... that the protagonist was a burned out porn star... and at some point in the film... well, there's this scene that I'm not going to describe, partly to avoid spoiling it and partly to avoid alienating any of my RL friends who stumble in here.

Now, I'm not a gore-hound. I like suspense and mystery and weirdness... mood and tension. Blood and shock are just spices, best when used sparingly.
I want my horror films to be more like burlesque, less like cheap rotgut porn.
That's why David Lynch knows more about creating tension than Eli Roth ever will.
I wanted to see this movie because... reportedly... it was disturbing, because the concept of the underground culture of 'snuff' films interests me, because it was extreme and transgressive.
Turns out it was fairly transgressive, disturbing in places... and also a bit predictable, at least in terms of the big 'reveals' at the climax. When the hoods came off I knew exactly who was under each of them. I'm not even sure it was meant to be a surprise, it was so obvious. Even the very end of the film was on my radar early on.

What WAS a big surprise was how well-made it is. It takes its time telling the story, nothing awful happens for the first half of the movie... it sets the scene, lets you know who the protagonist is, why he's putting himself in this situation... gives you a reason to care... all the time sharpening the knife it will stick you with later on.
It's not in a rush to get at you because it knows, in the end, it will.
It's a good looking film, there's a lot of thought in the camera work and lighting and set design. Many details that would probably mean more to me if I were Serbian.
The acting was great too... while watching it I never had one of those horrible lapses where I can see the actors 'acting'.
Considering what's going on in the later half of the film I'd say the acting was even understated... subdued. Nobody came off as if they were trying to win an Oscar... though I'd say that Srdjan Todorovic really deserves a nomination (if the 'Academy Awards' would EVER give nod to a Serbian horror movie about the snuff industry).
Seriously, compare Todorovic's performance in this film to any of the performances that have won 'Best Actor' over the years and see if he doesn't at least deserve a shot at the title.

This is a film about HORRIBLE people doing HORRIBLE things. Much more deranged and brutal than any slaughter at Camp Crystal Lake.
It needs to show you those horrible things because it wouldn't be enough to just suggest them, because in this case they probably go beyond where your imagination would. So I'm fine with whatever gore was present, because it had a purpose beyond mere titillation.

Is it a good movie? Yes, in the sense that it accomplishes what it set out to do.
Is it a good horror movie? Yes, there is tension and fear and things to be horrified about.
Is it a movie I'd recommend to friends, even friends who like horror movies? Probably not. I know one person I'd even mention it to and even he might give it a pass.

How does it compare to other transgressive horror gems like 'Martyrs' and 'Irreversible'? Well, I think it's more overtly offensive than either of those... more deliberate in its desire to get in your face about certain things. I think the subject matter demands it... I don't see how you could be subtle or poetic about such things. 'Martyrs' was a bit more... ethereal... in my opinion. Its subject matter was stranger and more surreal, despite the violence.

Really, when I sat down to watch 'A Serbian Film' my only concern would be that it would depress me... that it would leave me feeling bleak and lonely. That didn't happen, because despite the awful things happening on the screen I didn't feel it was crass or empty of meaning... even though I'm still not entirely sure what the meaning is.
I'd need to read up more on the current affairs of Serbia to see how this film reflects/illuminates... but it certainly seemed to have something to say, scream, about that country and its place in the world.

I might watch it again at some point... I'm not sure. It's not casual entertainment, that's for sure. If you're going to seek it out and watch it I think it's important to see it in its uncut form. For one thing its creators have stated it is a comment on censorship. For another, I think some of what is cut removes meaningful elements.
From what I've read most of the violence and blood was left in the censored version... the stuff that was removed had more to do with the presence of children and certain interactions... and that one scene, which I won't describe.

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