Wherein we roll up our sleeves, get angry, and give The Academy a swift punch in the nuts
Best Picture:A Serbian Film
U.S. DVD Release Date: October 25
WARNING: This review contains graphic material and minor spoilers. If you are 1) easily offended or 2) into incredibly intense, uncompromisingly brutal films and don't want this spoiled for you, then turn back now.
A lot of horror filmmakers try to make the most disturbing, fucked up film that they can possibly think of. But although many try to achieve this, a very small few actually succeed — and only two films, Cannibal Holocaust and 2010 Forgotten Oscar Best Picture Winner Martyrs, sit at the very top. The requirements for success are so high and the margin for error so slim. You can cram ninety minutes with as much bestiality, crucifixion, and rape as you can think of, but if you don't make every performance, special effect, shot, and note of music nearly perfect, then the film falls short of its goal — and if it falls far enough, the illusion is destroyed and it becomes laughable. 1977's Island of Death illustrates this perfectly: director Nico Mastorakis saw how much money The Texas Chainsaw Massacre made and said to himself, "Ha! I can make something way worse than that. Golden showers, disemboweling, goat fucking — this movie will be the most twisted thing ever made!" Unfortunately, the film's execution was terrible (so to speak): awful acting, a poorly written plot, cheesy effects, huge leaps in logic — in short, all of the shortcomings that you find in the vast majority of b-movies. Fortunately, Mastorakis got lucky: Island of Death is so immensely entertaining because of its poor filmmaking, and the film has found a cult audience among those who love unintentionally great cinema.
[READ:Phoenix review of A Serbian Film]
The years since 2000 have seen a new wave of ultra-disturbing cinema: Hostel and Saw are two of the more well-known, but there have been some great foreign films too, like France's Inside, about a killer trying to murder a pregnant woman, and the aforementioned Martyrs, which has unprecedented levels of torture, mental and physical abuse, and sadistic violence. The bar for ultra-disturbing cinema has never been higher. And then came A Serbian Film.
Like many before him, Serbian director Srdjan Spasojevic wanted to make the most fucked-up film he possibly could. But where so many others have failed to reach the top, Spasojevic succeeded, and managed to find a new angle on a saturated genre. His film isn't about gore and pain, although it is full of it. It isn't about making you uncomfortable, although it does so brilliantly. It doesn't have the "vice grip" of a film like Martyrs, which, from the opening scene to the final credits, slowly suffocates you until you want to crawl out of your own skin. In fact, A Serbian Film gives you moments to breathe and reflect on what you are seeing. No, A Serbian Film explores sexual violence and abuse in a way I've never before seen on film.
Milos (played by Srdjan Todorovic) is a former porn star, who has retired and started a family. But he longs to return to the spotlight, and when porn filmmaker Vukmir (Sergej Trifunovic) offers him one last gig that pays a huge amount of money — the film never says, but it's clearly a lot — he takes it. However, when the shoot starts it seems that Vukmir has more in mind than a simple skin flick: necrophilia, child pornography, and a new kind of porn of his own invention — something so disturbing that I dare not write it here. Vukmir has discovered the next step in ultra-violent pornography and, in perhaps the ultimate act of torture and victimization, we as an audience are forced to watch.
The most upsetting thing about A Serbian Film is that, although Vukmir's film is extreme, it seems entirely plausible and even profitable. In one scene, we see two average young men sexually harassing a young woman on the street, and although their abuse isn't nearly on the the same level of Vukmir's film they have faint echoes of his brand of porn. This is a key scene in A Serbian Film: extreme pornography exists — maybe not to this level, although it might (I have no interest in finding out) — and Vukmir's film is on the same continuum; way at the extreme end, but on the spectrum nonetheless. Director Srdjan Spasojevic has tapped into a dark, deep part of human nature and brought it to the surface.
A Serbian Film is a landmark in extreme cinema and cinema in general. Each line, special effect, shot, piece of music, and everything else works in perfect discord, and strikes a nerve so deep and raw that lasts long after it is over. I'm feeling ill as I write this, and I saw it over a month ago. A Serbian Film will never leave me. It moved me so wholly, so intensely, in a way that no other film this year did — and in a way that no other film ever has. It is just as effective as Cannibal Holocaust and Martyrs and stands alongside them, and — like they did — it has created a new subgenre all its own. It's the most exceptionally made, emotional film of the year, and it deserves the Best Picture Oscar.
Michael Neel is the co-creator of anthology-horror-filmDrive-In HorrorShow(now on DVD) and animated web seriesInfinite Santa 8000. He can be reached at:email@example.com.
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FOR COMPLETE PHOENIX OSCARS COVERAGE:thephoenix.com/oscars
MORE FORGOTTEN OSCARS:
Forgotten Oscars 2011
Forgotten Oscars 2010
Fantasy Oscars 2009