Serbian director Srdjan Spasojevic’s sadistic creation is 2010’s notorious offering to the exploitation horror genre. The BBFC cut just over three minutes from it; it was banned in numerous areas, and was pulled from FrightFest horror festival over concerns over content. Of course, themes such as necrophilia, paedophilia, child abuse and ‘newborn porn’ are certainly going to raise a few eyebrows: viewers have walked out of screenings, and it has been described as ‘sick’ ‘ vile’ and ‘repulsive’. But is this an overreaction?
Retired porn legend Milos (Srdjan Todorovic) is drawn out of retirement when a mysterious business man offers him a large sum of money for participating in his film – an ‘artistic statement’. Only, Milos does not know what he is signing up for. He agrees nevertheless, and is later driven to an orphan home for abandoned children by a silent suit-clad henchman. He participates in two shoots, the latter of which involves him abusing a woman in front of a child. He then decides he wants to quit the project, and is subsequently shown a film on a projector screen in a scene that serves no purpose other than to illustrate extent of the porn director’s depravity. Milos is then drugged with an aphrodisiac that induces a violent, sexual and suggestible state, leaving him completely open to commit acts of debauchery against his conscious will.
A Serbian Film is not to be likened to the low-budget exploitation horrors aired at niche film festivals, however – the aesthetics are glossy and the production costs high. But whilst the special effects are realistic, the violence is ridiculous – it tries too hard to push every button, and for this reason, fails to be even nearly as disturbing as, say, Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing, or Gaspar Noé’s Irreversible. In fact, a lot of the violence in A Serbian Film is either partially obscured, or cut prematurely – compare the nine minute murder scene in Kieslowski’s A Short Film About Killing, or the rape scene in Irreversible to the ending of A Serbian Film. Irreversible and A Short Film are far more harrowing because they don’t look away, they are not saturated with violence and they avoid gimmicks such as aggressive music and frantic camerawork. A Serbian Film simply tries too hard – it uses every trick in the book and falls flat on its face.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t cover deeper themes – themes of Freudian sexuality, political satire and sadism in the porn industry are all to be noted throughout, but are ultimately smothered by the film’s own obsession with gratuitousness, therefore losing all sense of gravity. A Serbian Film is an exercise in shock cinema that just falls short of shocking, and whilst I don’t think it deserves to be banned, I don’t think it deserves to be watched.