Essential Killing

de Jerzy Skolimovski


An Afghan captured by North American troops is transferred to Europe. There he escapes his captors, going deep into unknown territory. Lost, disoriented, his only objective will be to try and find some vestige of humanity.

Global Apocalypse and cinemaAntonio José Navarro

“They looked like scenes from a disaster movie. Or from a Tom Clancy novel. Or a CNN broadcast from some faraway foreign country”.

“But yesterday they were real. (…) The streets of downtown Manhattan were covered with human limbs, clothing, shoes and remains of human flesh, including a head with long black hair, and an arm outstretched on the highway three hundred meters from the point of impact”.

With these words “The New York Times” started the terrifying story it published on 12/09/2001 about the appalling terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, perpetrated by the Al Qaeda Islamic fundamentalists. American Airlines flight 11 and United Airlines 175 were the first to be hijacked and driven into the Twin Towers, causing both skyscrapers to collapse over the next two hours. A third hijacked plane, American Airlines flight 77, was used to crash into one of the walls of the Pentagon in Virginia. The fourth plane, United Airlines flight 93, didn’t hit any target and crashed in an open field near Shanksville, in Pennsylvania, after losing control in the cockpit as a result of a confrontation between passengers and the terrorist commando. The attacks caused over 6,000 injured, the death of 2,973 people and the disappearance of 24 more, plus the death of the 19 terrorists.

Ten years later, North American cinema has become a witness of those horrible events, with titles like Stairwell: Trapped in the World Trade Center (02), by Jonathan M. Parisian, Fahrenheit 9/11 (04), by Michael Moore, United 93 (06), by Paul Greengrass or World Trade Center (06), by Oliver Stone. But the list could be even longer if we add the movies that delve into the consequences of the attacks, like the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the dirty work developed by the US intelligence services based on “The War Against Terror”: The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow, 09), Restrepo (10), Sebastian Junger & Tim Hetherington, or Extraordinary Rendition (07), by Jim Threapleton.

However, beyond all that, there is a sense of horror that hasn’t disappeared yet, despite the gradual weakening of Al Qaeda, and the decisive moment of the death of its leader, Osama Bin Landen, at the hands of North American troops on May 2nd, 2011. And why? As Lucy Walker’s documentary Countdown to Zero (10) explains, the most important problem humanity faces is the nuclear disaster due to terrorism, which would have devastating worldwide effects. A sort of horror story with a cast of international stars–Jimmy Carter, Mijail Gorbachov, Pervez Musharraf, Tony Blair, Robert McNamara and Valerie Plame Wilson–, and a convincing plot: the human race is living on borrowed time. Given the number of existing nuclear weapons, how easy they are to make and the terrorists’ thirst for having them, it’s only a question of time before terrible happens. Although the intention of Countdown to Zero, according to its director, is not to scare people, just inform them … and to make politicians aware.

Part of the abovementioned horror, but found at much more accessible levels, is present in Essential Killing (10), by Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski. Vincent Gallo plays a Taliban combatant who escapes from his American captors. Terrified, exhausted, so much so that he can barely hold a rocket launcher that he kills three Americans that run into him with. His getaway through woody, savage, frozen lands is told with a high sense of physical action and with hardly any dialogue. A modern version of The Naked Prey (66), by Cornel Wilde. However, the character’s capture and torturing moves the story of this absolute actioner towards a political film, making a crude reflection on the ethical essences of the fight against global terrorism.


Jerzy Skolimovski

Technical information

Edition: 2011
Section: Sitges Clàssics
Original language: English and others