The recent decision by the Australian Classification Review Board to ban the sicko horror flick A Serbian Film was a decisive and welcome one. Exactly why the ACRB decided to reverse its original decision and allow A Serbian Film an R-rating is beyond me.
My experience with A Serbian Film is one which I will never forget: a mind searing, soul crushing moment that had me at a loss at how anyone could make (let alone enjoy) such depraved violence.
The film first piqued my interest with its simplistic yet mysterious title. As a child of Croatian parents, anything “Balkan” related to find its way on my wavelength usually means I’ll give it a watch.
Looking further into the background of the film, I found out that it had developed a reputation as a hard-core piece of repugnant exploitation that even shocked the most seasoned of horror fan. Yet I reassured myself that at the most A Serbian Film will be no more grotesque than the torture porn of Saw and Hostel (both which I’ve seen).
To say A Serbian Film went beyond that belief is an understatement. Even with an R rating (it was available on DVD for 3 weeks before being banned), this was a film where its sadistic violence and sexual depravity knew know bounds.
I found myself watching the film bit by bit, turning it off in disgust and then goading myself with the mantra of “professional criticism” to continue. When the end credits rolled and I noticed my notepad was without thoughts or musings on what I just saw, I decided then and there not to review the film out of shock and pure principal. Let some other bastard revisit that experience.
Now and then news concerning A Serbian Film would appear on my favourite sites. I almost spat up my morning tea when I read a comment by A Serbian Film director Srdjan Spasojevic on how the film was a political allegory, stating: "This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government... It's about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don't want to do. You have to feel the violence to know what it's about.”"This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government... It's about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don't want to do. You have to feel the violence to know what it's about.”
Surely the murder of thousands of innocent lives by Serbian forces during the Balkan wars didn’t deserve a film of this nature?!
When I read that Australian retailer JB Hi-Fi decided not to stock the DVD, I was happy. When the ACRB decided to ban the film, I rejoiced. There is no doubt in my mind that the banishment of A Serbian Film was a morally justified decision, made by those whose responsibility is to the community which they represent.
The Australian distributor of A Serbian Film Accent Films had another opinion, of course. On the social networking site Twitter, Accent stated: A SERBIAN FILM is for adults. If you cannot understand what the film is saying and means, you are not an adult and film is not for you”, followed by this doozy: “Accent will continue to release challenging, thought-provoking films that deal with important subject matters that others fear to tread”.
To back their statement, Accent posted a link to a pretentious review by Slant critic Joseph Jon Lanthier. “The filial kink and corporeal grittiness set out not to offend our rubric of taste, but to dismantle it and thereby reveal the pensively anthropological nuance of their grotesqueness” read the review in the type of over-stimulated intelligential wankery which only a Slant critic could write.
Of course Accent failed to mention that Lanthier was in the minority, with the majority of critics agreeing that A Serbian Film is not only rubbish, but it’s sadistic, depraved, and perverted rubbish.
A.O. Scott of the New York Times wrote “As is often the case with movies like this, A Serbian Film revels in its sheer inventive awfulness and dares the viewer to find a more serious layer of meaning”“As is often the case with movies like this, A Serbian Film revels in its sheer inventive awfulness and dares the viewer to find a more serious layer of meaning”; Mark Kermode of BBC (a horror lover who cites The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Devils among his favourite films) said A Serbian Film is a “nasty piece of exploitation trash ….if it is somehow an allegory of Serbian family and Serbian politics then the allegory gets lost amidst the increasingly stupid splatter”; then there is Tim Anderson of Bloody Disgusting (perhaps the horror movie website) who wrote "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.""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."
Here is a film which takes violence to such extremes that even die hard horror critics couldn’t stomach it, and this is supposed to be distributed in wide circulation?
There is no secret that violence in film and TV has hit extremes which many are uncomfortable with. As each decade passes it seemed that the challenge is to outdo the generation beforehand.
When the 1960s featured murder by kitchen knife in the shower in Psycho, the 1970s countered with murder by power tool in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Where the 1980s had bodily dismemberment and tree rape in The Evil Dead, the 1990s had and ear sliced off with razor blade in Reservoir Dogs. Hell, even the biblical film got gross out in The Passion of the Christ, since it became quickly apparent that the beating and crucifixion of a man could not stir reaction without extreme bloodshed to accompany it.
I know all of this because I have become a witness to violence. I have watched (and admittedly enjoyed) the violent exploits of many an action star and horror movie, because I like many others have become desensitised to the depiction of bloodshed on the screen.
Watching A Serbian Film, I realised that there has to be a limit to where all of this violence must end. In the span of 50 years we’ve gone from cut away looks of a knife wielding killer stabbing a woman in the shower, to a porn star driven to sodomise his own son and villains who take pleasure from “newborn porn”.
Taking A Serbian Film out of circulation is not only a favour to good taste, but also to the broader community. Our eyes have been witness to enough violence already and it’s up to our guardians such as the ACRB and community groups to step up and say “enough is enough”.
Otherwise, the next phase of violence to hit our screens will be much too horrible to contemplate.