The screening began with Tim League -- venerable genre film enthusiast, owner of the Alamo Drafthouse, and programmer of the SX Fantastic showcase in which Serbian Film was playing -- telling me and the rest of the audience to get the hell out. Either that, or he didn't want to hear any whining after Serbian Film kicked our asses, heretofore thought inured to on-screen gore and depravity after years of worshipping at the altar of the horror movie. This was not idle talk. Ninety-six minutes later, I was among a group of a half-dozen battle-hardened critics and writers who, when asked for their impressions of what they had just seen, found themselves unable to string together a coherent sentence. Consensus: Serbian Film was, by a long shot, the most disturbing thing we had ever seen.
Let me put my cards on the table: this movie depicts some acts that I think should not be depicted. I don't mean legally: as a free speech absolutist, I would never advocate for anything being banned, no matter how awful, so long as no one is actually hurt. But I do think -- or am starting to think -- that filmmakers have a moral obligation not to show certain things unless they are prepared to seriously grapple with their real-world consequences. Like Michael Haneke's Funny Games, Serbian Film is interested not in the substance of the images it puts on the screen, but in the images themselves: their power and their effect on us. This is perfectly legitimate, but in this particular case a line has been crossed. If saying that is moralistic and unprogressive, so be it.