Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Serbian Film: Is A Movie Dangerous If No One Watches It?

A common complaint among horror buffs is that the genre became too placid after the rip-roarin' heyday of the early '80s. But a proliferation of PG-13 horror films aside, I don't quite agree that the genre has been watered down. Dumbed down, for sure. Watered down, not so much. If we're just talking about gore, at one time movies as graphic and brutal as Piranha or Saw 3-D would've been cause for public outrage and sure as Hell wouldn't have been able to score R-ratings. Now, neither the public or the MPAA blinks an eye. The tolerance level for violence is so jacked up now that shocking regular movie goers is difficult (although it can still happen - look at the reaction to 127 Hours' grisly amputation scene) and shocking horror buffs is well-nigh impossible. One film that's gone the extra mile to try, though, is A Serbian Film.

Ever since its first public showing this past March at the South by Southwest film festival, A Serbian Film has been singled out as the biggest celluloid atrocity to come along in, well, ever. That the film boasts excellent technical credits is universally agreed on. Whether that makes it art or not is another consideration. I haven't seen it yet so I can't comment on the film itself but just knowing that it's out there raises a question in my mind - is a movie dangerous if no one watches it?

Some people regard A Serbian Film as a sign of the horror genre setting up shop in taboo territory once again but yet if this film is only sought out by the most dedicated purveyors of sick cinema, then it seems like a harmless exercise. Despite the fact that its getting a US release next year (courtesy of Invincible Pictures), even among horror fans, A Serbian Film is only going to get so far. If you're unfamiliar with what A Serbian Film is actually about, take a look at its Wikipedia entry and ask yourself how much you really want to see this movie. I'm guessing probably not so much. And even if you do, it'll only be for the sake of boosting your horror cred.

To the rest of the world, who generally watches movies for entertainment rather than punishment, it will be as if A Serbian Film never existed. That doesn't mean it shouldn't have been made but it does make me wonder what the future of extreme horror will be. Recently, both Hatchet II and the I Spit On Your Grave remake were released unrated and barely made a ripple. Hatchet II was pulled from theaters before its opening weekend was over, an action on the part of AMC Theaters that seemed motivated by audience indifference more than political pressure from the MPAA, while I Spit On Your Grave's limited theatrical run passed without incident. Both films got plenty of good notices in the horror press but in both cases, there wasn't a big turn-out. Some claim that these are the kind of movies that hardcore horror fans are craving but I think the box office performances of these films says otherwise.

Without the mystique that still surrounds the exploitation cinema of the '70s and '80s, films like I Spit On Your Grave '10 can't help but come up empty-handed. If I'm in the mood for a hardcore exploitation film, I'd rather just watch the old stuff. Those movies have a vibe, a natural authenticity, that you just can't fake. I've heard that the new ISOYG has better acting and better production values and so on but that isn't a selling point to me. I think if you have the kind of resources to make a really good movie, you should go do that and not remake ISOYG.

I've never been a fan of the original ISOYG but I've always given it a pass because writer/director Meir Zarchi claimed he made the film in response to a real-life incident where he came across a woman (in NYC's Central Park, I believe) who had just been raped and ISOYG reflected his anger with not only the abuse this woman suffered but also towards the indifferent treatment she received from the authorities when he brought her to a nearby police station. Whether Zarchi was truly making a feminist statement with his film, I don't know. But at least there was a personal motivation behind it. The motivation behind the remake was just to exploit a semi-well known title, which makes it far more unseemly than the original in my eyes.

In its favor, A Serbian Film is purported to have something bigger on its mind other than just cashing in on grindhouse memories. Writer/director Srđan Spasojević has described his film's atrocities as being motivated by the treatment of the Serbian people by its government. This seems like a pretty thin justification for depicting the rape of a newborn baby but hey, I've never lived in Serbia so I'll have to give Spasojević the benefit of the doubt here.

Whatever the motivations were behind A Serbian Film, though - whether the movie is a legitimate political cry of anger or just sick for its own sake - its subject matter will cause it to remain little more than a curiosity, seen only by a small pocket of horror fans. When the most common statement from those who've seen it is that they really, really wished they hadn't, it doesn't seem worth the bragging rights to follow in their footsteps.

With the recent news that the US remake of Martyrs is going to be given a "glimmer of hope," though, perhaps a more palatable version of A Serbian Film is bound to happen, too. Fans of the original, of course, would be up in arms, claiming that people need to see the original. But, honestly, isn't life too short for that? If Spasojević really wanted to call people's attention to the injustices perpetrated by his government, a documentary might've been a better idea. As a horror movie, A Serbian Film is too easy to choose to ignore.

10 comments:

Chris Hallock said...

I appreciate what you're saying here, Jeff, and I certainly agree with you on many points.

I've yet to see A Serbian Film, so the jury is still out on it for me.

However, I am interested in seeing it out of a curiosity I have for most fims, and especially those coming from other countries where we really do have no idea what sort of demons those filmmakers are trying to exorcise. Whether or not the makers of this particular film handled it in a way that makes a difference in the scheme of things remains to be seen. A few others have pointed out that making something more accessible, less overtly disgusting would serve better in bringing Serbia's plight to light. Or, as you suggested, a potent documentary. Otherwise, dudes just wanted to make a sick ass movie and are trying to drum up business.

I guess what it really boils down to for me can be summed up with my favorite mantra: It's only a movie...It's only a movie...It's only a movie...

Bob Ignizio said...

Wow, hadn't heard of this one and now I kind of wish I was still in the dark. I don't know if I'll subject myself to this or not. I just don't feel the desire to watch something some utterly depressing, and I'm way too old to care about horror cred anymore.

Jeff Allard said...

Chris, I may or may not end up watching A Serbian Film but if I do, I know for sure I'll be keeping that famous phrase in mind!

Bob, sorry to give you a heads-up on such a henious film! As a younger guy, I would've been more willing to give A Serbian Film a shot along side stuff like Cannibal Holocaust and whatnot but nowadays, it's harder to convince myself to go for it. Which is probably how it should be!

Scott (gotankgo) said...

Very well written post on a movie I've only heard/read about. The graphic intensity of the subject matter make this one I'm not at all sure I'll be running out to view at the first opportunity. I too might have been more curious about this cinematic harshness years ago.

Jeff Allard said...

Yeah Scott, I haven't even bothered to catch up with The Human Centipede yet and that looks like a cake walk next to A Serbian Film.

Mike Campbell said...

Seriously, it's just a movie. I thought it actually gave a little wink and a nod to the audience every once in a while to remind them. It will not appeal to everyone, but it is very compelling and well told. I think a US remake is in order, the same political points could be made about America.

Jeff Allard said...

Well, I'd rather be in the US than in Serbia but yeah, America has no problem fucking over its people. If they do a US remake, though, will they have to call it An American Film?

Mike Campbell said...

Jeff, that was funny, and a good point. That would not be a very good title for a US remake, and I wouldn't know what to call it. The story would benefit from being dialed down a little bit, but maybe that would defeat the point. I have not bothered to catch "Human Centipede" yet either.

Blue Seven said...

I saw A Serbian Film and it was indeed disturbing. I wouldn't say it was particularly good, though. I hope to get my thoughts together enough to write something about it but I feel confident in telling you that you could watch it without having it break your brain or anything - but also that you're not missing a whole lot by not watching it, either. And that goes double or treble for Human Centipede.

Jeff Allard said...

Good to know, B7. I feel like I ought to bite the bullet and check these movies out but we'll see. Glad to know the ordeal didn't scar you at all!