If you’ve been clicking around the internet lately, there is good chance that you have at least heard of A Serbian Film. Primed to be the...

In Defense of a Serbian Film


If you’ve been clicking around the internet lately, there is good chance that you have at least heard of A Serbian Film. Primed to be the next Antichrist or Cannibal Holocaust, this film has been described as the most ungodly, violating piece of work to ever splat onto the silver screen. Forget the psychological tortures of Saw or the bloody violence of Hostel, A Serbian Film blows them all away with the harrowing story of a former porn star who is drawn into an abyss of debauchery, incest and necrophilia.


Milos is the aforesaid ex-porn star with the legendary ability to hold an erection in the most adverse circumstances. Though he quit the business long ago to start a family and embrace clean living, demented director Vukmir wants Milos and his amazing member to star in his art house porno. On the verge of poverty, Milos agrees to Vukmir’s terms: he will participate in the porno without any prior knowledge of the scenes he will be performing in. Thus begins Milos’ traumatic descent into the bowels of Serbian torture porn.

The graphic violence of Milos’ journey has troubled critics. Most people who have watched the film wish they hadn’t, including reviewer Tim Anderson (Tex Massacre) of BloodyDisgusting.com who, despite heavy preparation, still had his soul raped. Tim even gave the film a one skull rating so as not to give the casual viewer the wrong idea to seek out this monstrosity. He ends with the caution: “You don't want to see A Serbian Film. You just think you do.”


Tim’s assessment is a reflection of the wider reception of A Serbian Film. It was pulled from one film festival due to its graphic depictions of sexual violence and has polarized critics with criticism falling into one of two camps: 1) it is sick and twisted shit with a message or 2) it is just sick and twisted shit. Scott Weinberg is a member of the former and wrote that though the film is “tragic, sickening, disturbing, twisted, absurd [and] infuriated” it is also “actually quite intelligent. And one of the most legitimately fascinating films I've ever seen” Even so, Scott does confess, “I admire and detest it at the same time. And I will never watch it again. Ever.”

Those in the latter camp are given a voice by critic Alison Willmore. While she admits "movies can use transgressive topics and imagery toward great artistic resonance,” A Serbian Film is not one of those movies, going more for “pure shock/novelty/boundary-pushing” value.

So where does my evaluation of A Serbian Film lie? Not having seen the film firsthand and gathering what I can from trailers, reviews and articles, I fall somewhere in the neighborhood of Scott Weinberg’s estimation. My defense of this film does not mean I endorse its content and no one should read this as a promotion of newborn rape, necrophilia or incest. That being said, I do think the film has such a negative impact on its viewers because of the aforementioned things it throws up on the screen, which makes it hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, if there even is one. Ever the cautious optimist, I believe there may be.

There are plenty of criticisms to be made about this film and reviewers, online and off, have made them in spades. Some reviews slam A Serbian Film for failing to say anything intelligent about porn or violence. Writer/director Srđan Spasojević justifies the film as a representation of the molestation of the Serbian people by their government. Jeff Allard of Dinner with Max Jenke finds this “a pretty thin justification for depicting the rape of a newborn baby” Though I agree with Jeff to some extent, the same premise was used for other legendary horror films like Last House on the Left, a shocker in its day that expressed homicidal frustration with government abuses and the Vietnam War.

In addition to its motivation, the film has also come under fire for its plot. Calum Waddell of TotalScifiOnline.com calls it “a feature so stupid that we're asked to believe a snuff baron would leave his master tapes with a (still living) victim,” referencing Milos' search for the truth after he wakes up from a drug induced daze—bruised, battered and with no memory of what he has done over the past three days. I’ll be the first to admit that Waddell’s critique is valid if we are looking at the film as a straightforward depiction of real atrocities. But this isn’t a shock doc, it’s a horror film. The structure of the film itself defies any sort of unified message about victimization and the porn industry and should be read instead as a trauma narrative.


Trauma is a wounding, psychological and physical. Though physical wounds can heal, the psychological wounds can last for years. Writer Charles Dickens underwent such a trauma. In 1865 he had a near death railway accident, but escaped without physical harm. The psychological effects were far more persistent. He lost his voice for two weeks, drifted into trances and "would fall into a paroxysm of fear, tremble all over and clutch the arms of the railway carriage." This last symptom represents an uncanny repetition of his trauma years earlier as he nearly fell to his death.

Milos’ traumatic tale hits all these notes and more. He cannot remember his trauma and must use outside sources to verify it in the form of Vukmir’s video tapes. Milos’s struggle to remember is reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s protagonists who have committed horrible crimes yet don’t remember theses atrocities (i.e. Berenice, when the narrator plucks out all of his beloved’s teeth thinking she is dead). Milos also repeats his trauma and the end leaves no escape from an endless cycle of trauma—a powerful commentary for a nation that has been victimized repeatedly by its government.

In this sense the film seems to have been more than effective in communicating an incommunicable trauma. Peter Hall of Horror’s Not Dead sums it up quite nicely: “Perhaps you’re not supposed to “get” A SERBIAN FILM, you’re supposed to just be taken over by it… I certainly felt like I had been fucked by the time it was over.

And who knows, maybe in a few months I’ll be back here railing about the horrible injustices this movie portrays and how it has no redeeming value whatsoever. Maybe, but for now I remain hopeful that this film will have more value than “that one movie where (insert horrible crimes against humanity here) happened”

Further Reading

A Serbian Film Exclusive

9 comments:

  1. Hi there, I just watched this movie last night. You can guess where I watched it; in my computer because I hadn't the chance to see it in any cinema and I don't think any cinema will be very proud to screen this movie. Don't get me wrong I actually 'enjoy' the movie; yeah is though and gory with twisted porn but at the end is the life of a human being who battles with the ghost of his own profession. He was a porn star but he always was one step behind of what 'truly' and 'natural' porn is as vukmir claims. exposing his family to this world is just crazy becasue anything can happen with this kind of people who are behind the cameras, they're just not to be trust guys.

    The movie also has very good photography, good tense sequences as music too. Who hasn't watch a porno? Probably all of us had, but what kind of porno? Do we enjoy it? Do we want something different in this kind of movies?

    One of the thoughest escenes here envolves a baby (you can figure out what happens to him). I wasn't particulary shocked by this, at the end is just a movie but for sensible people who never in his/her entire life has come out of his rock thiw would be like kicking Jesus in the balls, an offense.

    I don't go around my friends and colleagues telling them that I liked this movie 'cause they would think I'm a pervert or freak just because I liked a kind of MOVIE that we don't feel good to watch but in the end, in the bottom of our subconscious mind we want to see this and that will wake or close forever our tastes in sex, love and art however you want.

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  2. Man, I'm really all over the place with this one. I received a copy of it about a week ago and I'm not sure I want to see it now. I think I'm too terrified to watch it.

    There was a really interesting back and forth conversation on Brutal as Hell's review of the film awhile back. Apparently, the filmmakers are not as well intentioned as thought and the war/repression angle is suspect at best.

    Regardless, my curiosity keeps inching closer to pressing 'Play' on the DVD player.

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  3. Just remember Cortez, what is seen cannot be unseen! I don't know if I'll seek this one out but I will definitely check out the discussion.

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  4. I'm going to watch this and enjoy it. probably even have as bit of a wank half way through.

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  5. Great piece, MS - I'm still waffling on whether to expose myself to Serbian Film or not. I do feel that after taking it to task sight unseen, that I ought to judge it on its own terms. The internal battle continues...

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  6. Igloo, sounds like your mind is made up and Jeff, let me know how the internal struggle to watch or not to watch ends.

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  7. Man, I really need to post my review of this film.

    I thought it was a great movie and I HATE gory, pretentious movies like the Hostel and Saw series. I always said I can only stand gore if the story is engrossing and solid and here I was enjoying this one. Though it made me question just how messed up I must be to have actually liked this movie, ha!

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  8. I watched the film a few days ago and I have a thought or two about the experience.
    Firstly, I suppose I have to say that I believe the filmmakers in their statements that "A Serbian Film" was about the three wars that most recently occurred in that part of the world. If I didn't believe them, I wouldn't have a leg to stand on in my review, because without the contextual blanket of half a million arrests/interrogations/internments, approximately 130,000 to 150,000 deaths, and approximately 20,000 to 50,000 women raped between '92 and 99...well, without those statistics, the film would lack teeth and consequently, veracity.

    So, to those who would condemn it as brutal, shocking, horrific, etc, etc, recognize that the very few tough-to-watch things in the film occurred on a regular basis in and around Serbia for quite a large portion of the 90's. As I've recently told a friend, if that's what comes out of Serbia, let's give a camera to the filmmakers in Rwanda and be prepared to see what happens next.
    Seen in the context of a world of violence the likes of which I have never experienced, I can only view the film as the expression of one man's complete and utter domination by external parties to the point at which he is turned feral and inhuman, ravenous for something to fuck and without care as to who or what that thing might be. The dominance of the state over the individual is expressed through its careful cultivation of Milos as the poor and starving executor made to do their bidding through the lens of helping his family survive, when the power structure wants nothing more than to see him corrupted and turned into an animal. Women, as creatures of affection and love, are brutalized, made to heel and take the abuse of the male's uncaring and violent impulses, all to underscore the state's wanton need to be the one and only power. Absolute and total dominance, and if you don't like it, we'll take your newborn child and rape it, too.
    What else could come out of such horrible conditions? Flowers and love and lets-all-get-along? What a ridiculous argument to say that the movie is disgusting and horrid in one breath, and then in the other to condone the regular violence visited upon women and children across the globe because it might cost too much money to intervene, or we might lose a few soldiers (a group to which I belong, thank you very much).
    To watch "A Serbian Film" is to recognize that our leaders' platitudes concerning Libya or Rwanda, or anywhere else in the world experiencing violence that is either condoned or ignored by the state, is to also recognize that those leaders are us. They are people, too, with families and children, and we maintain that fragile, unviolent repression only barely and at the whim of the state to which we belong.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I watched the film a few days ago and I have a thought or two about the experience.
    Firstly, I suppose I have to say that I believe the filmmakers in their statements that "A Serbian Film" was about the three wars that most recently occurred in that part of the world. If I didn't believe them, I wouldn't have a leg to stand on in my review, because without the contextual blanket of half a million arrests/interrogations/internments, approximately 130,000 to 150,000 deaths, and approximately 20,000 to 50,000 women raped between '92 and 99...well, without those statistics, the film would lack teeth and consequently, veracity.

    So, to those who would condemn it as brutal, shocking, horrific, etc, etc, recognize that the very few tough-to-watch things in the film occurred on a regular basis in and around Serbia for quite a large portion of the 90's. As I've recently told a friend, if that's what comes out of Serbia, let's give a camera to the filmmakers in Rwanda and be prepared to see what happens next.
    Seen in the context of a world of violence the likes of which I have never experienced, I can only view the film as the expression of one man's complete and utter domination by external parties to the point at which he is turned feral and inhuman, ravenous for something to fuck and without care as to who or what that thing might be. The dominance of the state over the individual is expressed through its careful cultivation of Milos as the poor and starving executor made to do their bidding through the lens of helping his family survive, when the power structure wants nothing more than to see him corrupted and turned into an animal. Women, as creatures of affection and love, are brutalized, made to heel and take the abuse of the male's uncaring and violent impulses, all to underscore the state's wanton need to be the one and only power. Absolute and total dominance, and if you don't like it, we'll take your newborn child and rape it, too.
    What else could come out of such horrible conditions? Flowers and love and lets-all-get-along? What a ridiculous argument to say that the movie is disgusting and horrid in one breath, and then in the other to condone the regular violence visited upon women and children across the globe because it might cost too much money to intervene, or we might lose a few soldiers (a group to which I belong, thank you very much).
    To watch "A Serbian Film" is to recognize that our leaders' platitudes concerning Libya or Rwanda, or anywhere else in the world experiencing violence that is either condoned or ignored by the state, is to also recognize that those leaders are us. They are people, too, with families and children, and we maintain that fragile, unviolent repression only barely and at the whim of the state to which we belong.

    ReplyDelete