Table of Contents
A Serbian Film (Srpski film) is a 2010 Serbian psychological horror film produced and directed by Srđan Spasojević in his debut outing as a director. It involves graphic scenes of child rape, decapitation, sexual sadism, and necrophilia that are so extreme, even dedicated fans of “torture horror” claim that it has no cinematic parallel when it comes to offensiveness and unwatchability. Many critics have noted that what makes it even more horrifying and traumatizing is that it’s not merely a half-hearted, low-budget attempt to shock—it’s that it’s extremely well-made and thus can’t be so easily dismissed.
It enjoys (or, depending on your perspective, it suffers from) a widespread reputation as perhaps the most disturbing and horrifying film ever made.
This is the official American “Red Band” trailer for an edited version of the film that premiered for US audiences in 2011. As dark lighting and grim images fill the screen while wicked-sounding electronic music pumps in the background, phrases flash across the screen: “A RETIRED PORN STAR…INSANE DIRECTOR…WHAT HE DID FOR A LIVING…NOW HE IS DOING FOR HIS LIFE…A SERBIAN FILM.”
Miloš (Srđan Todorović) is a retired porn star who was famous for his ability to achieve and maintain an erection. Although he regrets his time in the porn industry, he also has no other marketable skills, and it’s growing difficult for him to financially support his wife and young son Petar.
One day, a female porn actress approaches Miloš to inform him that there’s a director named Vukmir (Sergej Trifunović) who’s producing an “art film” and is willing to offer a huge financial payoff to the actor who takes the role as the film’s main star. Miloš accepts the offer despite the fact that Vukmir is extremely vague about what the role will require.
Once Miloš accepts the role, he finds to his extreme disgust that the first task required of him is to receive fellatio while an underage girl watches. When the scene is done, Miloš vows to leave the project. Vukmir attempts to persuade him to stick around by showing him graphic footage of what he calls “newborn porn”—a clip where a man rapes a baby right after it is delivered from its mother’s womb.
Appalled, Miloš drives away, only to be intercepted, and then seduced, by Vukmir’s female doctor. She also injects him with drugs.
Three days later, Miloš wakes up on a blood-stained bed. With no idea of what happened, he returns to the film set and finds a group of tapes that reveal what he and the rest of the cast been doing for the previous three days. Such acts include:
- Miloš raping a woman and slicing her head off while raping her.
- A woman getting all of her teeth knocked out and then being forced to perform oral sex on a man who pinches her nose during the act, suffocating her to death.
- A woman being raped with a metal tube and bleeding to death.
Horrified beyond belief at what he’s witnessed, Miloš attempts to escape, only to be dragged back, drugged once more, and coerced into unwittingly raping his own son in the anus and getting the boy’s blood all over his thighs—while right next to him, his masked brother Marko is raping Miloš’s wife.
Miloš beats Vukmir to death by smashing his head on the ground. He also sexually assaults one of Vukmir’s henchmen by raping him in the eye socket. His wife Marija kills his brother Marko by biting out a huge chunk out of his throat.
Miloš is temporarily able to escape the filming compound along with Marija and their son Petar. He initially contemplates suicide. But realizing that the past few days’ events have traumatized them all beyond repair, he climbs into bed with his wife and son, hugs them closely, and deliberately shoots one bullet through all of them, destroying his family with one shot.
The final scene shows a bald, shadowy mafioso character and his two henchmen enter the room where Miloš and his family lie dead. As one of the henchmen begins unzipping his pants, the bald man tells him, “start with the little one.”
Analysis + Themes
The writers and director have steadfastly insisted that A Serbian Film is an allegory for the violence, hypocrisy, exploitation, and chaos in Serbia following the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.
According to co-writer Aleksandar Radivojević, he drew inspiration from watching porn films by Italian star Rocco Siffredi in the 1990s, observing how Siffredi brutally used women, especially Eastern European women, as disposable commodities:
Siffredi had been cranking out VHS tapes depicting himself engaged in brutal sexual acts on location with local girls in different parts of Europe (mostly in marginalized and poor post-communist Eastern European countries), all of which had an uncomfortable undertone of colonialism. One particular scene that stayed in my mind has him having sex with a girl in a car while in the background you see this forest out of which a group of grizzled beggars suddenly starts to emerge, at which point Siffredi who by now is done with the girl, ‘returns her’ to the downtrodden locals, handing her over to them in the manner of a modern-day Marquis de Sade as if to say: ‘here you go, I’ve finished what I needed do, she’s all yours now’. So, by making the main character in that original synopsis an aging male porn star, I began to incorporate this notion of modern-day colonialism via sexual exploitation of a poor country’s human resource.
In an interview conducted six months after the film’s initial release, Radivojević stressed that the film was never intended as mere exploitation but was rather an allegory for Serbia at the time:
We have become synonymous with chaos and lunacy. The title is a cynical reference to that image. A Serbian Film is also a metaphor for our [Serbian] national cinema—boring, predictable and altogether unintentionally hilarious which to a certain extent is commented on and subtly parodied throughout our film.
Similarly, director Srđan Spasojević has stressed in multiple interviews that the film is strictly a commentary on the corruption of the Serbian government and culture in the wake of the devastating Balkan Wars:
This is a diary of our own molestation by the Serbian government … It’s about the monolithic power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don’t want to do. You have to feel the violence to know what it’s about.Spasojević quoted in the Wall Street Journal
It’s a struggle against all corrupt authority that govern over our lives for their purposes…[of] the power of leaders who hypnotize you to do things you don’t want to do.Spasojević quoted in Rabbit Reviews
We just wanted to express our deepest and honest feelings towards our region and also the world in general — a world that is sugarcoated in political correctness, but also very rotten under that façade — with a movie style we liked….The major metaphorical take was to treat real life as pornography….It also looks like pornography; it’s about power, influence and all of those things. The last few decades of war have left a political and social nightmare here in Serbia….One of the thing the film’s saying is that we’re not living in the free world. The way the film was made also represents our resistance to political correctness, to fascism. These kind of reactions are fun, interesting, stupid and very, very sad. It’s evidence that we’re not free people.Spasojević interview in IndieWire
Spasojević also strongly denounced any intimations that his film was intended to arouse or excite anyone. Quite the opposite, in fact:
I hope that’s easy for normal people to see that this film is not about arousing, amusing or entertaining. There is nothing entertaining inside or, god forbid, arousing. We’re using genre and some tough tools to make our point. I’m confident that every scene, especially the violent ones, have their own reasons for being there. The violence isn’t there to shock. That was never the idea. Maybe the reason why this movie’s so hard to take, is because it’s almost like drawing my feelings on the screen. I’m sorry, but I feel like that.Spasojević interview in IndieWire
Cast of A Serbian Film
- Srđan Todorović as Miloš, the semi-retired porn star who takes one last job to support his family, not realizing this job will mark the end of his family.
- Sergej Trifunović as Vukmir, the insane director who sees extreme torture and rape as “art.”
- Jelena Gavrilović as Marija, Miloš’s long-suffering wife who only wants a good life for her family.
- Slobodan Beštić as Marko, Miloš’s physician brother who is both jealous of Miloš’s infamy and desirous of his brother’s wife.
- Katarina Žutić as Lejla, the former porn star associate of Miloš who lures him back into porn by informing him of one last lucrative offer.
- Anđela Nenadović as Jeca, the underage girl who becomes a prostitute and porn actress
- Lidija Pletl as Jeca’s granny, who shamelessly sells her granddaughter into prostitution.
- Lena Bogdanović as the doctor who injects Miloš with the drug that turns him into a violent rapist.
What’s astonishing about A Serbian Film is that not only has it inspired countless demands to wipe its existence from the face of the Earth—which is a common reaction to extreme horror movies—but that many critics, both professional and amateur, insist that it’s a tremendously well-made film. That’s not something that occurred with similarly “extreme” movies such as The Human Centipede and Cannibal Holocaust.
The consensus review on Rotten Tomatoes is that A Serbian Film is “A pointless shocker and societal allegory, a film whose imagery is so gruesome as to leave you scarred for life… or rolling your eyes for 100 minutes.”
Serbian actor and director Dragan Bjelogrlić dismissed claims that the film was a righteous allegory about Serbian corruption, alleging that the film’s director Srđan Spasojević hypocritically benefited from the same corruption: “I’ve got a serious problem with this boy whose father got wealthy during the 1990s—nothing against making money, but I know how money was made [in Serbia] during the ’90s—and then pays for his son’s education abroad and eventually the kid comes back to Serbia to film his view of the country using his dad’s money and even calls the whole thing A Serbian Film. To me that’s a metaphor for something unacceptable.”
Upon the film’s release in 2010, English reviewer Mark Kermode called A Serbian Film a “nasty piece of exploitation trash,” adding, “If it is somehow an allegory of Serbian family and Serbian politics then the allegory gets lost amidst the increasingly stupid splatter.”
But while acknowledging how innately disturbing A Serbian Film is, critic Scott Weinberg wrote, “I think the film is tragic, sickening, disturbing, twisted, absurd, infuriated, and actually quite intelligent. There are those who will be unable (or unwilling) to decipher even the most basic of ‘messages’ buried within A Serbian Film, but I believe it’s one of the most legitimately fascinating films I’ve ever seen. I admire and detest it at the same time. And I will never watch it again. Ever.”
Taste of Cinema even did a listicle detailing “4 Reasons Why ‘A Serbian Film’ is a Great Movie.” It praises the characters’ symbolism, the fact there is deeper meaning behind the gore scenes, and the obvious allegory between snuff films and the way the Serbian government treats its citizens.
The New York Times seems to accept Spasojević’s contention that his intent was to film a political allegory rather than an exploitational snuff film: “The framing tale, with its allusions to the Balkan wars of the 1990s and the greed and political corruption that followed, can thus be seen as a piece of corrosive social criticism, exposing a national psychology of sadism, misogyny and self-pity. That it may also be an example of those things is no contradiction.”
Users’ reviews on IMDb amply display how the film is able to evoke both extreme negative reactions and fawning praise. According to the following one-star reviews, A Serbian Film is an unmitigated and unforgivable monstrosity:
- “Torture, incest, rape, child rape, a grown man raping a newborn child, beheading (during sex), necrophilia, paedophilia, bloody toothless blow jobs, anal bleeding and a man f***ing another man in the eye to name but a few. To summarise this is basically torture porn/a snuff film. Honestly I don’t know why I saw this film all I know is I can never unsee it so I’ll say it again, if you want to retain any innocence PLEASE DON’T WATCH THIS FILM!!!!!”
- “Those Serbian guys are just sick in their minds and I can’t imagine anyone with such a rotten mind that they can focus on details like blood spraying on thighs of a boy that is just being raped by his father while lying next to his mother.”
- “You NEED TO BE MENTALLY ILL and have serious MENTAL PROBLEMS to watch this movie and give it 10 stars, to enjoy it! You can’t enjoy a movie like this one. That’s not ART! That’s not A MOVIE! That’s SICK!”
- “I think this is garbage. Pure and utter TRASH. I think this does NOT have any “social commentary” and it’s only an insult to any sane person. This is one of the worst things I have ever seen. And I’ve seen some really twisted things in my life. This isn’t “art”. It’s disgusting, revolting, nauseating, stomach-turning, appalling, abominable, vile, nasty, foul, loathsome, offensive, distasteful, putrid, ghastly and horrid…and I’m being nice.”
- “This kind of movie should never be recorded, should never be in cinemas. I hear that director of this movie say that he only created a movie about things that really exist in reality. Many things exist in reality and we should fight against it, we shouldn’t create marketing for it. I have few scenes that still can not throw from my head.”
Yet the following 10-star reviews on IMDb amply display how the film is also able to evoke fawning praise:
- “This is, quite simply, a flat-out brilliant film. There are definitely no unimportant scenes. I clearly love this movie specifically because I didn’t know the twists and the turns—I was expecting something that would probably look cheap and trashy, instead it looks as handsome as the most prestigious film from a major studio….I’d say the weirdest and hardest graphic Film I’ve ever seen on one hand-but on the other hand a MASTERPIECE in directing, editing, acting, lighting, screen writing, scoring and creating pictures in it’s most extreme artificial and artistic way.”
- “A disturbing masterpiece with a great story, perfect acting, haunting score and characters with personality.”
- “A Serbian Film is brilliant. The acting is superb. After the initial 30 minutes intro and setup, the next hour and 20 minutes is quite relentless. But the situations Milos is put in are so unreal and impossible and his reactions and expression are accordingly stunned, it’s actually quite humorous to see him. It’s also perfectly filmed, without gimmicks that Hollywood can’t do without, like jarring editing, dance club lighting or alternatively, ridiculous discolored coloring. What shines though is the story and how it is told. Truly a lesson to American scriptwriters, not so much in content please, but in how to develop a story and involve the viewer, not with CGI but with heart.”
- “Serbian twisted sexuality has been a subject of other films dealing with Serbian culture, including Marina Abramovic’s Balkan Erotic Epic. But Spasojevic goes beyond sex and constructs the ultimate anti-erotic piece. A Serbian Film is so violently energetic that it is hardly impossible to watch – let alone derive any pleasure from it. A masterpiece of political and social denunciation.”
- “While the film does have some of the most vile, disturbing scenes I’ve ever watched in a movie. It does have a lot going for it. The plot was very original, never seen anything like it before. The film is obviously set in Serbia, and the way this was shot just captures the grit and violence that this country went through. It was beautifully shot, the dark scenes are very, very gritty. Yet, the colors and scenes are so vivid, I find it to be very fresh and original. Not to mention, if you’re a horror fan, it has some of the best death scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie.”
- A Serbian Film was shot over the course of 61 days in Belgrade, Serbia.
- Despite the public outcry about the “newborn porn” scene, the film is not technically child pornography, since a doll was used for the scene rather than an actual human.
- A full 19 minutes were cut in the USA before the MPAA was finally willing to give it an NC-17 rating.
- The young girl who appears in the film at 33:17 is actually the director’s daughter.
- The festival director who planned to screen A Serbian Film in Barcelona was preemptively arrested on suspicion of promoting child pornography. The charges were later dropped.
- Srđan Spasojević attended the film’s premiere at SXSW in Austin and invited audience members onstage to squeeze lemon juice in their eyes and take a shot of strong liquor to emulate the pain they would soon experience watching the movie.
- A Serbian Film is the only movie in Japanese history to receive an R20+ rating, meaning that only people who are 20 and older were permitted to view it.
- As of the year 2016, only three countries in the world issued a rating for the film’s uncut version. The rest of the world either demanded heavy edits or banned the movie outright.
- The nasty, grinding, electronic soundtrack was performed by Sky Wikluh.
- The child actor who played Miloš’s son is uncredited in the film for reasons that should be obvious.
- In one scene, the depraved director Vukmir explains his philosophy on filmmaking: “Where there is no life, there can’t be real art. A real talent will rot here, while maggots are giving press conferences.”
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the point of A Serbian Film? Is it art or trash?
Whether or not Spasojević was sincere is up to the individual viewer. The very fact that the film inspired such polarized reactions should confirm the notion that whether a film is “art” or “trash” is strictly in the eyes of the beholder. One would have to view the film to form an opinion, but so many people who’ve actually viewed it were so horrified, that they warn people not to view it because they say it will scar them for life.
Is it safe/Legal to watch A Serbian Film?
Is A Serbian Film on Netflix?
Why do Horror exploitation films exist?
What countries have banned A Serbian Film?
With extreme edits, it has been released in various forms in several countries, including United States and Great Britain. Its unedited and uncensored form was finally released in the USA on DVD in 2021. Interestingly, it has never been banned in Serbia.
What are other movies like a serbian film?
You can also reference our list of the most disturbing movies ever made for more intense cinematic experiences.