Title: Essential Killing
Director: Jerzy Skolimowski
Starring: Vincent Gallo, Emmanuelle Seigner
Release Date: April 1st
Essential Killing may have begun as a political thriller, but the end result is more a story of what people will do to survive in horrifically difficult circumstances. The film opens with three American soldiers patrolling the desert, before cornering a Taliban fighter (Gallo) who’s hiding in a cave. He opens fire on them, before almost immediately being captured by the Americans.
He’s brought to a Guantanamo Bay-style camp and we witness brief but graphic torture scenes, before all those being held captive are brought to an undisclosed location, presumed to be Eastern Europe. He manages to escape when the truck they’re travelling in overturns, and flees barefoot in his orange jumpsuit; suitably subtle given the blanket of gleaming white snow coating absolutely everything. The remainder of the film follows Gallo’s character as he attempts to evade capture, and survive in the wilderness alone.
In a bid to survive, Gallo’s character murders multiple times along the way, not limited to a brutal scene with an Alsatian, another involving a chain saw, and probably the most horrific and bewildering of all, a bizarre scene involving a woman who’s breast-feeding her baby on the roadside.
While it is obviously Skolimowski’s intention to provoke some thought surrounding the necessity of these murders given the circumstances Gallo is trying to survive in, it’s quite difficult to empathise with his character. He may have begun as a tortured victim, but it all begins to feel a bit unnecessary.
It is not until the credits roll that we find out the name of Gallo’s character (Mohammed), and he does not speak once in the entire film. Gallo’s performance is excellent however. He conveys a huge range of emotions despite the lack of dialogue, and retains the intensity necessary to make the story in any way believable.
His performance, along with very clever use of sound and camera angles (often looking through Gallo’s eyes), creates tension and tangible suspense, and the momentum never ceases throughout the film. However, leaving everything so vague makes it hard to be completely drawn in by the story, and the lack of any real narration makes the whole thing a little disconcerting and confusing more than anything else.
As the film progresses, the whole thing gets a bit stagnant. It becomes a constant chase that goes nowhere, and despite seeming to be building up to something towards the end, what results is a complete anti-climax. All in all, the ambiguity ultimately works against it.
In a Nutshell: Thought-provoking, but ultimately a bit of a disappointment.
– Aoife Valentine