A Serbian Film is possibly the biggest troll in cinematic history; it’s so blatantly over the top, it can only be described as a stylized cinematic version of the “Aristocrats” joke.
Note: this article isn’t NSFW in and of itself, but the topics it covers could be considered as such. No spoilers inside.
I’ll admit, I was hesitant at first to write this article for two reasons: it would broaden public awareness of the film (which, for the average person, is not a good thing), and it would also be self-incriminating evidence that I’ve watched it. Or at least, that’s what I thought when I hit “play” and took the top off my pen, ready to take notes. I now sit here writing this not ten minutes after the credits rolled, during which I kept thinking only one thing: “I’ve just been trolled.”
There’s no shortage of shocking films out there. Salo, Men Behind the Sun, the Guinea Pig series, Antichrist, Cannibal Holocaust…the list goes on and on. All of these films are designed to elicit disgust, causing the viewer to not only question their own position in the human race, but in the world as a whole. Some (like Men Behind the Sun) tackle actual historical events, which adds to the depravity and terror they depict, while others (such as Cannibal Holocaust) are presented in a “realistic” manner, in an attempt to up the shock value. While A Serbian Film could be lumped into this category as well, I’m not so sure that it should be. See, those other movies I mentioned? They approach their subjects with a sense of humble frankness; they’re presented in a matter-of-fact way, which is part of the reason why they’re so brutal and shocking. On the other hand, A Serbian Film feels like it’s just out to mess with you.
I don’t mean this in the same way that modern torture porn films (Hostel, the Saw series, etc) operate; I mean that the themes explored in ASF are presented in such an over-the-top stylized manner, it’s hard to take them seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say the film has a wide potential viewing audience; one need only to watch numerous reaction videos on YouTube to see how the general public feels about it (this particular one being my favorite, although it carries a big ol’ spoiler warning with it.) All I’m saying is that, once you come to the realization that you’re being trolled, the film loses its claws almost instantly.
I’ll admit, there’s some truly vile stuff in this film…at least, on paper. The trifecta of scenes that get the most discussion (which I will not go into here) are, at face value, some of the most terrible visuals ever put to film. With that in mind, I got the sense that the film was winking at the audience during these scenes; all I could think of was Peter Griffin making a squeaking noise with a balloon while saying “Aww…that is just awful!” These scenes feel like they weren’t meant to shock, or even meant to see how much the film’s creators could get away with. Rather, these scenes seemed like the filmmakers were daring the audience to find the humor in it. Not “haha” humor, but humor in that “Very Bad Things” kind of way. It felt as if the filmmakers were saying “Here’s this absolutely horrific imagery and subject matter that has a deeply buried tone of cheekiness. What do you focus on? The imagery itself, the situations explored, or the fact that we’re just screwing with you?
From what I’ve read, some of the events depicted in the film were supposedly inspired by the terrible acts committed in Serbia (both by and on the country’s people) over the decades. While this adds a bit of extra nastiness to the film (regardless of whether it’s true or not), it doesn’t do so in a way similar to Men Behind the Sun. The “true” material in Men Behind the Sun is presented in a static non-stylized manner, which is the polar opposite of A Serbian Film’s presentation. Art-house camera angles, intricate lighting, a muted color palette with high-contrast, chunky blood…the whole thing feels like a stylized overindulgence of shock, resulting in a film that, for me at least, was REALLY hard to take seriously. I don’t know if that means that I’m twisted in my head, if I’m really desensitized, or if I just managed to pick up on it early in the film, but regardless, there it is all the same.
Let me be clear here: even if you have some experience with films like Men Behind the Sun and Salo, A Serbian Film is NOT a breezy, easy-to-watch movie. Underneath all of the trollish subtext, there is some truly horrific stuff here that will be far too much for a lot of folks to handle; I can’t even imagine the “average” film-goer seeing it, and I’ve already told Brittnie that this one is definitely on the “not appropriate for you” list of movies that we keep (which will find its way into an article someday.) Still, even with that in mind, if you’ve got a strong stomach, the ability to turn your emotions off, have a desire to see what will likely go down as a legendary bit of shocky cinema, and can recognize when you’re being screwed with, this is one worth watching.
It truly is sick and twisted, and the vast majority of people likely won’t make it all the way through, but just remember this if you do decide to watch it: A Serbian Film is the guy that snaps people on the leg with a towel. Nothing more. There’s no deeper meaning hidden in there, it’s not trying to teach a lesson, and there’s no message behind it. It’s only intention is to screw with you, then do everything short of outright asking you if you can even recognize what it’s doing.