Peering Into Darkness

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As a writer and fan of the macabre I can appreciate and fully understand the pull of the abyss. As  humans we are all drawn toward the darkness of the human spirit, the human heart, and the awful things we are capable of doing. That is one of the things that sets us apart from the animal kingdom – our cruelty and occasional joy in it. If you question that then turn on the television and watch one of the dozens of crime shows that are one. We all feel the pull of a roadside accident, or the allure of televised carnage but most of us turn our heads when we have sated that curiosity. Some, but not all. And for those few that keep looking when the blood flows there are all manner of movies, books, television shows and more for them.

Now, this is not meant as a condemnation of people drawn to the dark side as unless someone crosses the line and commits an act of violence themselves, but most don’t. Some people just look longer into the darkness, and their reasons are their own. For once though, I wanted to look into the abyss a moment longer to see what was there.

Now, when peering into the darkness you have to set a few ground rules, you have to understand what your limits are, what you are willing to see and what you just cannot handle. Me, I don’t dig on the ‘true death’ stuff. Not for me. I can see why some people are drawn to it and can even feel that morbid pull but am not interested in seeing the stuff. For me, the little I have seen was more than enough. I had my fill. Only you can set parameters and you do need them because you have to understand that it’s one thing to go to the deep end of the pool when you are learning to swim and another to dive into the ocean. Baby steps, people.

But sometimes you need to look into the darkness to remind yourself why you cling to the light.

So I found two movies streaming on Netflix and thought I would take a walk on the dark side for the night. I won’t say which films I watched because it wouldn’t be fair to publicly judge them as I fast forwarded the films. I can walk on the dark side from time to time but it doesn’t mean that I didn’t leave a nite-light on. Just saying. Anyway, it isn’t fair to condemn the movies by name because I didn’t fully commit to them. I will say I got the gist of both and got all I was going to get out of them. I saw enough.

What I found is that really, the fringe of horror has never changed, it just evolves. When I was a kid growing up we were into the foreign gore films and the harder they were to track down the more we wanted to see them. After that people got into the true gore films like Faces of Death. After that the fringe and the mainstream got together and turned out movies that were mainstream gore films that dragged the skeletons out in front of everyone, making us all confront our taste for torture and death, making us face our taste for the perverse. But when movies like Hostel there was a need to push further out, and that brings us to the new breed, the newest evolution. With the availability of affordable high def equipment amateur and budding filmmakers can now make films for next to no money, can edit them on their home computers, can burn copies on their computers, and can sell and distribute their films online. Now the fans are the filmmakers and with social media they can get immediate feedback and can give the fans exactly what they want. A blessing and a curse because there is a point where fans, knowing they have your ear, will keep pushing, pushing, pushing and you won’t be an artist, you’ll be a factory.

What I found was that the old is still new. Gore is still in, more realistic, for sure, but still as fake as ever. With the gore you get some other bodily fluids, some vomit, some pee, some blood, and if you look hard enough maybe poo. With all of this you get torture, you get borderline hardcore sex, you get sadism, and from the couple I saw, you get very little story. Now, this is not at all to say that every movie is the same as I am sure there are gems out there waiting to be discovered but, well, the dark side is out there for a reason. I can still watch the old gore movies from my youth and enjoy the heck out of them but I can totally see that these were definitely not great films, they had their charm, but often that charm was to spite the filmmakers and their efforts. Now there is little charm, just a purer taste of the dark. How long these filmmakers and their films will last remains to be seen. Like all trends, they will pass, they will become too timid, or maybe too dark, and tastes will change. Happens all the time. Even on the dark side. It is interesting to see what the fringe parts of horror are up to, interesting to get a pulse on things, but the fringe doesn’t do much for me anymore, and I don’t really mind that.

I don’t condemn the fringe, the dark side of horror, and never will. It’s pretty hypocritical to damn something for being different. For being extreme. And while the two films I sorta watched were not something I would want to see again I will grant them that there were kernels there, there were ideas that could turn into something if they were fleshed out. And the thing is this, I may not like the movies on the fringe but I admire the passion to make movies with only the money you can scrape together, and doing it with the understanding that you may never get rich off of what you are doing. Horror often thrives in the underground, and while the fringe is more of the basement to the underground, their spirit is what makes me wish them well, and hope that they find ways to focus on the storytelling first, and the shocks second, though, really, I have that hope for most horror, new, old, mainstream or indie. And in that, all movies are the same.

…c…

A Serbian Film – review

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A Serbian Film – review

Friends, there are some things you see that you can’t un-see. Movies you seek out which you can’t really explain why but which you need to see. For us horror fans there are a lot of movies like that. Horror movies lay on the borderlands of the film genre, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime, the genius to the infamous. A lot of great directors have cut their teeth on horror films and while many have left their marks, it seems like it’s the films from directors you have never heard of that really manage to get under your skin. Along the great long halls of horror though there are definitely rooms you avoid and places you don’t seek out. There are mainstream movies like A Nightmare on Elm Street, the cult classics like Killer Klowns From Outer Space, the gore films, the slashers, gosh, the list goes on and on but on the fringes of it all are the movies that you hear about, or read about, the movies someone who knows someone has seen but which seem like the stuff of nightmares. Back when I was a lot younger these movies, these phantoms of the extreme were only found at conventions and through bootleggers but as the years have passed it’s gotten easier and easier to get these movies, but while they are easier to find, that doesn’t mean they are easier to stomach. You see, on the far edges of the borderlands are where you get the taboo of the taboo, never anything illegal but the films that are the extreme of the extreme, but as ridiculous as most of these movies are in their desire to be shocking, there are some films among the bunch that don’t just live up to their reputation but exceed it. These are the films that are not just shocking but are horrifying, and they are horrifying because beyond the gore and sex there is subtext, there is meaning, and worst of all, there is truth. It’s been a while since I have seen a movie that stopped me in my tracks and shocked me, and genuinely shocked me, but A Serbian Film did just that, and not just for how far it goes as for how much it says. This is one of those films that equally brilliant and horrible. Sometimes you look into the darkness for monsters, never expecting to find them but sometimes, sometimes it’s they that come looking for you.

Milos is your average man in many respects – he is a father, he is a husband, he enjoys the drink a little more than he should, and he worries about money. Where he is an extraordinary man though is that Milos is Serbia’s great porn star, a man so prolific and adored that his fame has stretched well beyond the country’s borders. He is at the end of an illustrious career but is still willing to come out of his self-imposed retirement from time to time in order to work, the need to support his family greater than his desire to be free of that life. When he is approached by a friend from the industry and told of a deal that could make it unnecessary to work again, that if he can do one more job for a director wanting to make not just another porn but art, that he can give his family the life it deserves. The deal is too good to turn down and even his wife insists he take the job. As filming begins though the director’s insistence on keeping him in the dark regarding the film’s plot starts to worry him. Things start happening that Milos is uneasy about but being the consummate professional he follows his acting cues and does what is asked. When Milos is faced with the mounting uncertainty and concern with what he is involved in he backs out of the film but quickly finds that it won’t be as easy as just quitting the film. No, Milos will find that the only way out of Hell is through it, and it’s a long journey indeed.

A movie like A Serbian Film is a rough one to judge with a rating. On one hand it is appalling and gut wrenching and utterly deplorable. This is the kind of movie that shouldn’t be seen by more than a few people. But just the same it’s a brilliant film with so much to say that it’s hard to deny the value of seeing it. So, let me break the review into two parts.

  1. The movie. The acting here is pretty good, the lead playing Milos being extraordinary. He approaches the character not as a sleaze or jerk but as an honest family man who is loyal to his wife and wants to just provide for his family. The rest of the acting is mostly good with some hit and miss performances along the way. The direction is very well done and when things turn in the film you truly are on the same awful journey of discovery that Milos is. The violence has impact. The gore is palpable. The atrocities are genuine. You feel this film. That’s the sign of a good filmmaker and good crew. There are some moments here that get so grotesque as to border on the absurd but perhaps that was intentional, showing how utter and true horror, when seen through rational eyes, is ridiculous. The way the story unfolds is actually pretty close to how I had imagined, and is done very well, though I admit that I think it could have had even more impact had the film played out straight, and not in flashbacks at times. I also think the film was too slick. The film is so well made that the horrors we see are not as impacting because it feels like a Hollywood production. Again, this is probably a filming choice made consciously. All in all, a very good film.
  2. The FILM. This is a little harder. The film, as it is, as it stands, will be hated, and rightfully so, for what it is and what it portrays. This film portrays the utter worst in people, the blackest of hearts and the darkest of realities and there is no light to seek here. This is not a movie everyone should see or seek out. It’s a rough ride and you won’t like it. Was I shocked? To varying degrees but there’s a point where you have seen enough, read enough, and just lived enough where horrors become imaginable and anything is possible. Let me be clear though – the gloves are off on this film and if you can imagine an atrocity, you are close to appreciating what is in store for you. Having said that, A Serbian Film is a beautifully done statement. This is a film that rages against society that survives horrors only to create more simply to get rich. This is a film that shows the death and perversion of innocence even as we, the viewer participate. There is nothing good or redeeming about the story here but that is the point. This isn’t ‘torture porn’, where the point is the violence and the blood (PS, I don’t believe in torture porn as a subgenre, just so you know, it’s a silly term that got way too much traction) but is a movie that champions the relationships and it is because of those relationships that the film has such an impact. This is not a fair film though. It is manipulative, is cruel, and is something you can take no joy in watching. Just the same though, it is honestly brilliant. It brings up the idea that sometimes we invite the devil to dance, even when we don’t know it. And it casts a cautious eye at so-called ‘artists’ who make films touting such depth and high ideas but which revel in their blasphemy. I have seen rougher films, films that got to me more, but I have rarely seen films with so much to say which manage not to preach. Sure, it goes too far – the ending is a bit heavy-handed – but sometimes you really need to hit people in the head with the message whether they like it or not.

Wow. This is a hard movie. I am very glad I saw it, and part of me considers owning it but, wow, I dunno that you wanna watch this a whole lot. Were it not so good, were the actors not so good, were the story not so good then it would be easily forgettable as trashy extreme horror, the crap that punks and wannabes turn out to make a name for themselves or get attention but this is not one of those films. This is a serious, dark, nasty, twisted movie about the utter horror of reality and what war can leave behind. I cannot recommend it, but I also won’t damn it. It’s too good for that. As for the plot, there are plenty of spoiler reviews that will spell it all out for you so if you are curious look them up and you’ll see why I can’t recommend the movie. If you are up to the challenge though, it’s a film you’ll not likely forget. And one last warning – if the Hostel films upset you, they are child’s play compared to this.

8 out of 10