A Serbian Film (2010)

MAY 15, 2011


Seems like every few years there’s a movie that horror fans are almost sort of dared to watch; Faces Of Death, Henry, Martyrs... these are movies where the story and other merits of the film are overshadowed by a few key moments that “you hear” are the sickest or most hardcore thing ever shown in a regularly distributed film. And now A Serbian Film (aka Srpski Film) tops them all in that respect, as it dips in pretty much every taboo, offering just as much if not more sexual brutality than the sort of graphic violence you come to expect; a woman being realistically beheaded (i.e. not in a clean sweep like in Friday the 13th) is probably the least upsetting act of violence in the film.

Before I get into the film, let me get one thing out of the way – the NC-17 version that screened in LA (on 35mm! A nice surprise) had about four minutes edited. However, based on what I understand was cut, there is only one instance in the movie where I feel the editing lessened the dramatic impact of what was happening in the scene. The rest of the time, if anything, the cuts made the movie harsher, because it trimmed the violence down from potentially cartoonish levels into something more “normal”. Nothing from the story has been excised; the “newborn porn” scene that you’ve probably heard about is still there, you’re just spared the visual (you still hear the baby’s screams, and see the most disturbing aspect of it regardless of the editing: the mother’s smile as it occurs). I’m not a fan of censorship by any means (and I am baffled/somewhat amused at the notion of a film having to be edited down in order to get an NC-17), but I’m not a fan of seeing babies get raped either. If this was Irreversible and they wanted to cut out the entire rape scene, I would be outraged – the whole movie hinges on the act, and seeing the awfulness of it is what allows you to justify most of what you’ve already seen the hero do in retaliation. Basically, the movie doesn’t “hinge” on the baby rape scene anyway, but if you’re of the mindset that “only hearing” it happen means that you won’t see the movie, that’s your problem.

Anyway, I knew that going in. What I DIDN’T know is that the film was actually fairly legitimate, with a real plot, strong/interesting lead character, and even a bit of a unique mystery angle. It’s also shot incredibly well; I could have sworn it was film but I saw the Red logo in the end credits (which were in Serbian – I also saw the Kodak logo though, so I don’t know). It’s like, you hear about this crazy movie with baby rape and necrophilia, you don’t expect to be sitting in the theater marveling how great the color scheme was. Dug the electronic score, too.

Another surprise was how long it took for it to get to the awful stuff. For some reason I was under the impression that the movie was like Martyrs; a nearly non-stop endurance fest. But it takes its time, setting up our hero, his home life, how he knows the involved parties, why he would need to take this job in the first place, etc. And even once these things start to occur, again it’s not like you have to watch 45 straight minutes of sexual debauchery – it actually becomes kind of a mystery. After attempting to back out of the film, Milos is drugged, and wakes up 3-4 days later in a pool of blood. He then has to use the videotapes and his fragmented memory to piece together what transpired over those few days (the setup actually allows some fairly seamless editing; you’re always hearing everything, but they can cut away from what’s happening on the video to Milos’ horrified reaction and the audience will be none the wiser). I’ve mentioned before that I am sick of movies that start off with a guy not knowing where he was or what had happened over the past couple hours/days, but by structuring the story so that this occurs at the film’s halfway point or so, it allows us to invest in Milos’ story and thus have an emotional attachment to his plight; I wanted to see what happened to him just as much as he did, something I don’t feel for the characters in movies that start off with this predicament.

As for the acts of depravity, I don’t know if “unfortunately” is the right word but at any rate I pretty much had them all spoiled before going in, with the exception of the last few minutes’ worth. I don’t want to spoil anything but the final scene is the most upsetting part of the movie, a surprising mix of truly disturbing violence and genuine tragedy (slightly marred by a rather ridiculous final “stinger” – more on that later). And it’s what led up to it that the editing cost the movie some of its impact; you know exactly what has happened (it involves a particular character being raped while their face was covered), but by removing a shot of the cover coming off and letting us see who was under it, the moment of shock/disgust for both us in the audience and the other characters is severely blunted, I think. It would be like unmasking the killer at the end of a Scream movie and not showing us who it is, and then later saying “Man, I can’t believe it was Billy!” And since I’d argue that the later, unaltered scenes with this character are more upsetting than the quick shot of seeing them in that situation, the cut really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me (it’s also the only time that I could tell there was an edit).

Another oft-publicized aspect of the movie is that it’s supposedly a metaphor for how Serbian citizens are treated by their government (“The baby is us, our innocence taken away from us as soon as we enter the world!”), and while I am sure that is true, it doesn’t really have an in-film component to let non-Serbians in on that idea. The villain has a bit of a speech that hints at such concepts, but it’s hardly enough to really enforce the metaphor. I don’t need a history lesson in the middle of the movie, but I think when you’re dealing with such extreme atrocities, a little more context to justify them wouldn’t hurt. Romero always has social commentary built into his films, but you don’t need to fully understand those issues in order to enjoy them, because “zombies are awesome!” and thus you can just have fun. But Serbian Film is hardly “fun” to watch, and so unless you constantly keep the metaphor in mind (and/or do like I did and read a few interviews beforehand), it will just come across as a well-shot piece of trash. So if director Srdan Spasojevic thought that these metaphors would translate to a global audience, in that respect he has failed as a storyteller (if he was secretly trying to boost Wikipedia’s page hits, however...). And back to that stinger – the metaphorical idea is pretty clear, and possibly even justified, but it’s overkill on a figurative level AND a literal one.

And, obviously, I have to keep in mind that as a non-parent and a somewhat desensitized movie viewer, my idea of what is too far may be much more extreme than a parent whose harshest horror experience thus far was Saw II. I was drawn into the story and Milos’ tragic story with most of the violence eliciting no more than a raised eyebrow or “ew” face, but other folks may be too disgusted/turned off by those elements to recognize that at its core the movie is actually a compelling thriller.

Ultimately, you’re either going to see it or you’re not. It’s too notorious in the horror circle by this point, and thus I highly doubt anyone reading this site on a regular basis hadn’t yet at least heard of it. I just hope that if you have already made up your mind, you keep your damn mouth shut about the film’s lack of merit until you actually see it. I wouldn’t look down on anyone who opted not to see it because of the subject matter it contains, but I have zero tolerance for the types that hear about these things and automatically get on their soap box and claim that it’s “vile trash” or whatever without even bothering to watch it for themselves. As I said, it’s a technically impressive film and is certainly NOT just a series of awful violent scenes; there’s a legitimately compelling story here and a real lead character to root for/care about. I don’t know if I’d ever want to watch it again (at least, on its own; a commentary track would be very enticing), but ultimately, like it or not, A Serbian Film has more merit than at least half of the movies I’ve watched for HMAD.

What say you?


  1. This is why you're dead.

    There is no reason to try to justify this movie. I have never seen more pretentious garbage-- and I was a writing major. Writers THRIVE on pretense.

    The major problem with this movie is that I can't believe for a second that it was meant as some sort of social commentary. I am not going to pretend that I know what life in Serbia is like, and I'm sure it is complete garbage, but I have watched this film and I will climb on a soapbox. I can handle violence, I can handle rape, but I can not watch a movie with such over the top, cartoonish gore and the rape of a newborn baby AND that shit-fuck of a final twist (I won't give it away) and even pretend that it is meant as metaphor. It isn't. It is meant to purposely shock, and it doesn't even shock. It's just disgusting, and it isn't even clever. Metaphor is weak, weak, weak. "Yes, that's what I meant!" No, it's fucking not, and you know it.

    You aren't a parent, true, but you're also not a woman, and you therefore don't get to see often the sexual violence that we see... the sexual aspect against men. But I am a parent and a woman, and I don't usually pull those cards... "I'm a woman and rape offends me." It generally doesn't. But this movie sucked so, so much. Seeing a newborn baby be raped isn't metaphor. It's fucking horrible and stupid. This movie isn't "tragic". It's awful.

    If the director wanted to make a technically impressive movie about Serbia, he could have just done that. But he didn't. He made a movie that is 100x more stupid than Hostel, threw in some excessive gore and is trying to pass it off as clever. And it isn't clever. It's just stupid. I really thought you'd be able to realize that.

    I saw the uncut version. And for once, I didn't pay for it, because I would never, ever let that movie see a penny of my money.

  2. yeah fuck you brian collins, fuck you up your stupid asses. this movie is shit. it's not some morally questionable but technically awesome flick, it's shit. fuck you douche bag. eat a cock fucker and continue to be so dead inside that infant rape doesnt bother you. ps.
    you spoil every god damn movie in your reviews. fuck off LA wannabe filmmaker that makes a living working on credits.

  3. Daaaamn, you mad huh?

  4. The more people are outraged, the more people watch. :)

  5. Funny, I'm the Bizzaro World version of the asshat you describe at the end of this post: Without having seen it I found myself defending this movie. I was compelled to respond on some douchenozzle's video blog comments after he had given the most superficial and hypocritical dismissal to the pirated version he had no doubt downloaded. (I don't think he pushed the comment.) Honestly, I doubt I going to dare myself to sit through this, but I am morbidly fascinated by transgressive cinema despite not having much of a stomach for it. Thusly I was interested by this and began digging through the web to find out more. (Hint: If you're not spoiler averse, knowing a good deal of the plot and watching the early, long Euro trailer will give you I think a good visual sense of what's in store.) So by the time I got to this blowhard's discursive drivel I had a good sense of what was in the movie, and sensed that his sputtering was pretty far off the mark. This particular numbnuts makes a huge show out of how Caligula (yes, that Caligula) is his favorite movie, but is nonetheless certain that dudes behind A Serbian Film had no greater aims than to get away with the most vile stuff they could. What really irked me was he claimed the same thing about Salo and Craven's Last House... That the intellectual and technical accomplishments of those films were mere ruse so they could just film some perverted shit. Now, those are both some vile movies, but they're not without purpose. And even without having seen A Serbian Film the quality is obvious. From what I understand the makers are very up front about working in the exploitation tradition, just as they're commenting on the horrors their country endured; one does not preclude the other. Just because Romero thought it would cool to have a head cut off by a helicopter doesn't mean he didn't have other things on his mind.

    I'll go so far as to say that the subtext of a movie (book, comic, whatever) is not contingent on what the filmmaker's overtly intended. For instance, I have some strange ideas of what Beetlejuice is _really_ about. I've also heard some great readings of The Shining that made me rethink my opinions on that movie. But that is as murky an argument as aesthetics.

    In the end I'm not going to the mat for a movie I probably won't see and no doubt would find more morally troubling than I already do. But do not preach to me about how everyone involved is bad person and are misrepresenting their intentions and that anyone who isn't as offended must be a broken and/or sick. You really have no idea. And if you do, make that case, don't pass your shock and outrage as the only reasonable moral opinion. In world where Kick Ass is fun, hip entertainment, where Odd Future are having smoke blown up their asses by everyone and their editor, where horror fans have no problem with the August Underground series and other pseudo snuff videos, it seems a little disingenuous to pretend that this is the nadir of morally complicated entertainment.

  6. Kolleen,

    I havn't seen this film, so I will neither be defending or persecuting it on it's merits, but I will say that I am STRONGLY anti-censorship; IMHO if no people or animals are harmed in real life in the making of a movie (or any other artform) then anything goes - I may not enjoy it, or may choose not to wath it, but the film-makers are within their rights to fake whatever they want, and everyone else it entitled to love it, hate it or ignore it.

    I am however slightly confused by your comments.

    You admit that you did not pay to see this film, but qualify that with a 'for once', so I assume we are to understand that you do not usual condone piracy.

    You also justify your decision not to pay, using the content of te film, and your outrage at same.

    This is where I get confused: did you know you were going to be outraged BEFORE you saw it?

    If so, why the he'll did you watch; and if not, then how did you arrive at your decision to watch a pirate copy (given that your outrage is the justification for doing so)? Just a thought...

    I think I'll add this one to my 'watch' list; I'm planning a 'video nasty a week' blog, and every now and then I plan on making an exeption and making my weekly film NOT something from the DPP list, rather something in that vein that either escaped the wrath of the DPP at the time, or was released too late; this sounds like it would fit the bill perfectly!

  7. I ae reader usually know as 'pyro' by the way...

  8. Thank you, Kolleen, for once again proving why anyone who claims to be a "writing major" - does such a major even exist at any college? - is to be immediately ignored.

    Brian, I disagree with some of your assessments. I don't think that you need to know any amount of Serbian history - even what's offered in the narrative - to understand what Vukmir is trying to sell Milos. In fact, I think the key for the audience is to AGREE with Milos that it's total batshit crazy psychopathy and not worth consideration. By going that route, you side with Milos and you're able to empathize with what he's been through, even though he put himself in the situation. It's a nightmare, only to be revealed in hindsight, and I think that's all the metaphor that's necessary.

    I think that's also the key to understanding the last line, which I don't think is overkill at all (but which is impossibly vile). THAT is where the commentary on Serbia itself really hit home for me and I actually understood what the filmmakers were going for. I can't get into it more without being spoiler-heavy, but suffice to say it put a cap on all the things Vukmir had been bubbling idiotically - or perhaps not so much - for the entire movie.

    On all other fronts though, I agree. And my entire reason for wanting to watch the movie was that I really couldn't believe, from what I was hearing, that there was any merit to this film whatsoever. But like you I found it not only technically and narratively sound but actually excellent, and though I'll never watch it again...well, I guess saying that I'm "glad" I watched it isn't the right term, but as a film fan I am glad it's part of my lexicon.

  9. @Kolleen Your post showed up after I had typed that.

    You're absolutely right. As a single, white man there are somethings I'll never fully 'get' when they're represented on film or in narrative. I may understand and empathize but I won't 'feel' in the same way that someone who has a more significant biological relationship to the subject. So I do not begrudge you, and anyone else, their visceral and/or intellectual reaction to extreme subject matter.

    Moreover, you are absolutely right to speak up loudly and with righteousness about why this is a terrible thing. In the same way one is free (more or less) to produce crappy, provocative entertainment, we are free to call bullshit on it and express why we consider it vile. I'm doing the same with this Odd Future rape-as-shock-value bullshit everyone seems to be talking around.

    (I myself find it near impossible to deal with rape in art: I've never finished The Accused or Boy Don't Cry. I fast-forwarded through the first half of I Spit on Your Grave. No way am I touching Irreversible. I've turned off/walked out of/stopped reading any number of fictional works had graphic depictions of rape. It's something so awful to me that even with serious purpose or artfully done, 8 times out of 10 I can't stomach it.)

    But, likewise, as you yourself say, you're not Serbian. You're not the filmmaker. It's not up to you to say what they were or weren't trying to accomplish, what experiences they are speaking to. You can only speak to your reaction. Even if they come out and say, 'Ha ha! Trolled. Lulz.' or it turns out they were little kids or college students sheltered from the genocide occurring during their youth (which from all accounts was more horrible than most of us can comprehend) that doesn't mean the film is out-of-hand without merit or without greater meaning. You know, Birth of a Nation and whatnot.

    I don't doubt this is a hateful film that should be called out for the trash it is. But do that for reasons you can reasonably argue. 'Cause when you ascribe the writer, director, producers, actors, et al motivations you can't possibly know to buttress your argument the whole foundation becomes pretty flimsy. Frankly, it comes off as hyperbole and reactionary.

    Also, I'll be 'that dick' and point out, that if, per your last last sentence, you're saying you or a friend downloaded the version that you watched, than either A) you thought you might like it/were morbidly curious and wanted to see it or B) you already knew you were going to hate it and not pay for it on principle. If it's A I wonder why you didn't wait until it was released like the rest of the punters; if it's B then I have to wonder why you bothered. In either case, you apparently bootlegged the movie and so, no matter how you justify it with your outrage after the fact, you might want to temper your moral righteousness a wee bit.

  10. Sounds interesting. I mean, compared to the likes of Hostel and such it sounds like it has more of a well thought out plot/character. Is there anything to compare with films of those vein, or is it higher-minded/produced? (I realize the location of production means it wouldn't have the same portrayal of its setting, but for the other aspects anyway)

  11. Unfortunately, if you want to see great Serbian horror movies you need to go deep in the past:

    Leptirica (TV 1973) (The She-Butterfly)

    Variola vera (1982) (Smallpox)

    Davitelj protiv davitelja (1985) (Strangler vs strangler)

    Vec vidjeno (1987) (Reflections)

    Not written by me, but here is a nice post about Serbian horror movies:

  12. You know what's sad? Derivative horror crap spewed out every week gets a shrug or a pass. Movies with cartoonish violence without any consequence are lapped up or dismissed outright without much fanfare. But when a movie like this comes along and actually attempts to make you feel something - anything - there is such an outrage over it that it is almost pathetic. The people condemning others for liking this film are so woefully ignorant of why those people liked it that you just want to give them a hug and tuck them into bed with some warm milk. It's ok not to like a movie, but seriously, lay off the personal insults. It just makes you look like an immature, uneducated, knee-jerk reactionary sillybilly. This movie, in my opinion, transcends Martyrs or Inside and all of that because it's actually a commentary on something. But I guess according to some people it's ok to satirize something as long as a douche like Borat prances around with a silly accent but god forbid we broach social commentary like in A Serbian Film. That would actually require thinking on our part. Imagine that. And anyone who thinks this flick is pretentious is the most misinformed person on the planet.

  13. P.S., the fact that this Kolleen actually uses the word "grrrrl" without a hint of irony tells me all I need to know about this "person"

  14. When I heard about this movie, I was very curious about it just because of the controversy surrounding it [I'm a sucker for controversial movies lol]. I had it for a while before I saw it, then finally checked it out. And after seeing the uncut version of it, this is what I think: First off, I agree with you that the movie is well made [I'm getting sick of watching low budget movies on cheap digital cameras]. But here's the thing, it does go too far! Anytime you give a movie it's recognition, but then you say that you'll probably never watch it again, is really saying something imho. A movie that can only be seen once due to it's extreme subject matter & gore can't really be making that much of a statement besides the fact that it's extreme & gory. I don't usually make big deals out of gore & extreme subject matter [I absolutely loved "Martyrs"]at all. But I must say, the "child pornography" is waaaay too far & it is most likely why most who have see this won't watch it again. You take that aspect out of it, & it's a more watchable movie easily. BTW for all of those talking about the whole "Bootleg/illegal Download" ordeal, give me a break! Stop with the self- righteous "I'm better because I didn't download it" crap. Prove to me that you've never downloaded anything you shouldn't have, then after that, 1 yourself for lying!

  15. No, Zillz, I probably won't watch it again because I don't have time to watch nearly ANY movies a 2nd or 3rd time anymore, and when I do, I opt for all time favorites or movies that are just plain fun to watch. I'll probably never watch Martyrs again either. Maybe when HMAD is done with and that sort of time presents itself to me, spending 2 hrs rewatching a dark, disturbing movie will sound enticing, but until then, no. Has nothing to do with any specific content - if I was so upset by anything in the movie that I couldn't bear the idea of watching it again, I probably would have walked out.

  16. So....I guess this is the wrong place to proclaim SERBIAN as "The Feel Good Romantic Comedy of the Year!" huh?

  17. Hey Brian, a friend practically tied me down and made me watch this film. It turns out I felt pretty much exactly the way you did. I told him it was well made but I didn't feel it was worth watching. It didn't scare me, give me anything edifying to walk away with, and the metaphor he tried to convey was murky at best. Some of the imagery did disturb me but ironically it was the decapitation that I found most challenging. Something about it not happening very quickly. I did come to care about the characters and liked the direction overall so I hope to see something new from the director that isn't so extreme.

  18. The purpose of a horror movie is to horrify, right? So then I guess this flick did its job on some of you. Me, I was bored. Kind of in the same way I was bored when I watched Hostel for the first time. I did love that scene with the guy and his eye socket. Funny stuff, that.

    I agree there really wasn't much point to it, but then most horror movies don't have one, so whatever. I did get a sense that the film makers were trying to say that Serbians are victims in some way, but there are enough Serbian war criminals that have been charged and who are sought after right now to show that they are not victims at all, but the victimisers. Read up on the Bosnian war which broke out in 1992, if you wish. Serbs committed genocide and attempted to wipe out Bosnians through ethnic cleansing. Not something victims do. If the film makers wanted to say that they were a nation afflicted with victim mentality, now that I could accept. Hateful people. Ask any Serb how he feels about Bosnia, or muslims, chances are you'd be met with the verbal flames of holy hell against them. It's pretty sad, really.

    But anyway, yeah, overall this movie didn't feel any different to me than stuff that is already out there. No big.

  19. The worst part of this whole thing is you implying HMAD will end some day. Not cool, man. Not cool.

  20. Ah, okay. I see your point. But the "HMAD ending one day" line is a buzzkill...LOL!

  21. I watched this one at the Copenhagen film festival back in April... I had read about it, and remembering the buzz about MARTYRS I really thought it couldn't be as horrible as "they" said is was... But I gotta admit, it really made an impact on me... I never considered leaving the theatre, but I surely understood the people who actually did leave... The "newborn porn" scene, and the "masked double rape" scene was just too much (I don´t have kids myself, but I work in a kindergarten, and I have a nephew)... The very graphic and realistic beheading was VERY overwhelming as well...

    Leaving the theatre I was pretty convinced I would NEVER see this movie again... I´m not so sure anymore... Reading a lot of comments (here and elsewhere), and getting a bit of distance, has made me come to think that it just might be interesting to see if the movie will still disgust me with those mentioned scenes a second time around...

  22. Okay, seen it...

    The unmasking.
    Oh God - The unmasking!

    Much to my surprise, it is a decent film, but I will never, ever, watch it again, and it certainly isn't for everyone.

    If you thought "Saw 2" was too violent, or if you have to cover your eyes during the first half of "I spit on your grave" this is not for you.

    If the only horror you enjoy is the 'hero killer' type, where you root for the madman while he hacks his way through a line of cardboard cut outs masquerading as characters; this is not for you.

    Frankly, it not really for anyone, but if you think you want to be horrified, not scared, not shocked but actually shaken to your core HORRIFIED, you could do a lot worse than to see this film.

    But make sure that's genuinely what you want, because it can't be unseen.

  23. I literally just finished watching this 15 minutes ago and am totally still processing, but I agree with most of what you said in your review. I also wanted to add that though the "political allegory" may very well be there and it may even work (MAY...I'm not sure) I actually think the film is most provocative in terms of its attitude towards and narrative about masculinity. Yes, I'm sort of obsessed with gender, but how can you not want to talk about masculinity after watching this? I feel like its the most pointed critique of "manhood" I've seen - or at least the most compelling engagement with the terror of being male and all that comes along with it. It reminds me of "Deadgirl" in the may that it takes one our most basic socially reinforced ideas - that men JUST LOVE TO FUCK and that men, they just HAVE TO STICK THEIR DICKS IN EVERYTHING and isn't that so nasty and kind of exciting but still isn't that naughty, those MEN - and turns it on its head, fucks with it, exaggerates it to such a degree that maybe, just maybe , we can recognize something essentially horrific about the whole idea in the first place....

  24. There is a way for people who are too curious not to watch this film, but too wuss to watch with the full impact - yeah, like me. Before you get it in your computer (I won't tell how, but the word torrent comes to mind), just read as many spoilers as you can. The ultimate spoiler is always the wikipedia page, that tells every turn of the plot. If you know everything that is coming, the movie will still be pretty strong, but you won't be so repulsed.

  25. Heres the problem with everyone's outrage...the things depicted in this film actually exist. I have friends who work in the investigative aspects of law enforcement and sadly every sick thing in this movie does happen (exploitation, sexual violence, incest, baby rape, etc.). If people are truly outraged by this movie and want to do something, stop watching porn. This industry has evolved into something so sinister that you can't support porn between consensual adult without inadvertently funding depraved shit that this film shows


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