This article contains images, ideas, and language that will upset most people. You probably shouldn't even read it.
If you ask hard horror fans what is the most fucked up movie they've ever seen, many of them will immediately say 2010's A Serbian Film, made by the Serbian writer/director Srđan Spasojević. And it's easy to see why. It does contain a lot of very transgressive scenes involving necrophilia, pedophilia and sexual torture. This is another movie that has been censored and banned all over the world. It was investigated by the Serbian government to see if crimes against kids were committed. Netflix refuses to carry the film.
But if you can see past the shock, what is the movie actually trying to say? That's a very controversial question.
Before we go any further, let's discuss the movie's plot (yes, there are spoilers). Here is the trailer for it:
The movie is about a semi-retired porn star, Milos. He has a happy life with a wife and 6 year-old son. When his son finds one of Milos's old porns, it is used as a loving, teaching moment to help the kid understand sex and masturbation. So far, the movie is a quirky look at a porn star's home life.
One day Milos is contacted by a movie director named Vukmir who gives him a very special offer. Vukmir wants Milos to make one more porn film, and he will be paid an enormous sum of money. The catch is that he has to sign the contract without knowing exactly what he will be doing. All he knows is that the movie is "art" and will be sold to special customers in other countries. The money is too good to pass up, so Milos takes the gig.
Meet The "Art Film"
Milos quickly learns that he's in over his head. The movie he signed up for requires him to participate in ever-increasing atrocities, and by the time he decides he wants to quit, it's too late.
Vukmir requires Milos to beat women while he's having sex with them. He is also expected to have sex with underage girls.
One scene that Milos witnesses is when a man helps a woman deliver a baby. Then he has sex with it. Like a proud father, Vukmir proclaims he has invented a new genre of film — "newborn porn."
While the first half of the movie is fairly straightforward, the second half becomes increasingly hallucinatory and non-linear. This reflects Milos's increasing mental instability and reaction to how he's being treated. Combining weird drugs with an inner darkness that Milos didn't know was there, he ends up having sex with a woman before, during, and after killing her.
The last 15 minutes are some of the most bleak and despairing scenes ever put to film. This movie does not have a happy ending.
If you can separate yourself from the shocking violence and depravity, and pay attention to the plot itself, you notice that it doesn't make a lot of sense. It's actually kind of goofy. This means that either Spasojević is using the movie as a metaphor, or he's just trying to add an illusion of thoughtfulness to what is really just shock horror.
The movie isn't called A Serbian Film for nothing. Spasojević insists that the movie is a commentary on several problems he sees with his country
Spasojević has said in interviews that the movie is meant to parody Serbia's politically correct film industry and how boring and predictable it is. He says it's an indictment of how Serbian films are financed by other countries who don't have any real connection with the film itself.
There's a pivotal scene halfway through the movie when Vukmir tries to explain to Milos what he's trying to do. Vukmir goes on a very acidic and angry rant about how terrible the Serbian government is, how it exploits its own citizens, and how Serbia is a nation of victims. Vukmir's "art film" is his attempt at taking the idea of victimization to extremes. He basically wants to whore out the idea of happy Serbian families, debasing and destroying them to the furthest limits, and then letting foreign countries enjoy it. He wants people to see that the Serbian government fucks its citizens over from the moment they're born (this is what the baby-raping scene represents).
The Critical Reception
Not surprisingly, the movie is very controversial. Nobody can agree on whether the movie is actually good or not.
Well-known critic Scott Weinberg said:
I believe it’s one of the most legitimately fascinating films I’ve ever seen. I admire and detest it at the same time. And I will never watch it again. Ever.
Harry Knowles from Ain't It Cool News believes that:
This is a fantastic, brilliant film — that given time, will eventually outgrow the absurd reactions of people that think it is a far harder film than it actually is.
However, other people aren't buying into the movie's attempt to be socially relevant.
Well-regarded horror site Bloody Disgusting said:
If what I have written here is enough to turn your feelings of wonder into a burning desire to watch this monstrosity, then perhaps I haven't been clear enough. You don't want to see 'Serbian Film.' You just think you do.
Time Out New York holds the opinion that:
In its histrionic dream logic, the movie says as much about Eastern Europe as 'Twilight' does about the Pacific Northwest.
I've seen the movie twice, and I can't decide whether this is an important piece of horror cinema, or just an extreme exploitation film. But whether the movie has a deeper meaning or not, there is one thing that everybody does seem to agree on: Anybody that watches this movie will be changed by seeing it. And like they say, you can't un-see it.