A Serbian Film is finally being released commercially in the U.S. this Friday, May 13th (ho ho ho) in four cities: New York, L.A., Austin and Phoenix (???). Philadelphia's Invincible Films, the U.S. distributor, had the cajones to go after the most controversial film in years but now it seems they don't know what to do with it. It's understandable in some ways- after seeing the film last year at AnotherHoleintheHead, I never thought it would ever get released in the U.S., period, so I was surprised when I heard this small company had picked it up.
The initial plan was to release an "R" rated version to chain theaters nationwide and an uncut version to independent theaters in larger metropolitan areas. At the same time the company was going to make the film available online and uncut, via FlixFling, an online movie delivery portal. Then two things happened. The programmer of the Sitges Film Festival was charged with exhibiting child pornography after screening the film and when Invincible submitted a cut version to the MPAA the film still received an NC-17 rating.
The Sitges fiasco seems to have freaked Invincible out, as suddenly they were no longer releasing an uncut version anywhere, any time. I've read the NC-17 version has anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes of the film removed (the U.K. release was the most-edited film ever in that country, losing more than four minutes). The new plans called for the theatrical release, the FlixFling download, and future DVD and Blue-Ray releases to all be edited in various amounts. Sadly, this will likely result in the continuing illegal download of the uncut screener version that's been seen world-wide over the past year.
Today Invincible stated that the version on FlixFling will be essentially uncut, with only 5 seconds edited out. If you've seen the film you know those 5 seconds are coming from one of two moments (possibly both) in the film. In my opinion, leaving those images on the cutting-room floor isn't necessarily a bad thing- whoever said you can't unsee some things, even if it's in a movie, was right when it comes to ASF. The company also stated the film will be released in more cities than the original four, though they didn't say where or when.
Essentially, Invincible botched it and are now attempting to recover, but has the damage been done? They chose to play with fire and got burned by what happened at Sitges. I have little empathy for them, though having actually seen an uncut version of ASF in a theater, I would wish that anyone inclined to see the film would be able to experience it in the same way I did. It is truly horrific, but it's also an incredibly well-made film on every level- that's part of what's so unnerving about it. But it's not going to happen.
I find watching movies on a computer to be a dissatisfying experience, even when viewed on a TV screen. The hard-core horror fans who haven't seen the film already will go for the FlixFling version, and they'll get most of it, but not the full effect of watching it on a large screen accompanied by one of the most effective soundtracks ever made filling the viewer with ever-increasing dread as it's pumped through a professional sound system.
Should you see A Serbian Film? It depends on who you are. I'm not saying you should, but I will also admit the film has incredible staying power. It's indelible, for better or worse. If you have children, skip it- period. But do yourself a favor- if you take the bait, don't read the reviews containing spoilers. Walk into it cold, if that's possible at this point- and be prepared to have your senses pummeled.