Path of Blood (2017) ****

July 9th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Jonathan Hacker; documentary narrated by Samuel West and with the voice of Tom Hollander; USA 2018, 91 min.

Best known for his groundbreaking TV work Jonathan Hacker’s big screen debut is a chronicle enlivened by Al-Qaeda home movies and propaganda statements, and videos of the Saudi Secret Service and police forces bearing testament to their side in action against the Jihadists in the out-and-out war between Al-Qaeda and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that has been raging since 2003. 

Hacker never takes sides. Even the most infuriating statement by the young, un-informed and death-loving Al-Qaeda fighters is simply shown as testimony. The first is Ali, a young man who does not wear a mask and has been chosen to drive a car with a bomb – for which 72 virgins will wait for him in paradise. Asked by his instructor “Ali, what do you say, if you hear, that our acts are a sin against Islam?” Ali does not know the answer and begs “for a more easy question”. Keep it simple, is his repeated refrain. In the same video men are laughing, messing about – your normal gang of teenagers with arrested development. They will play football and talk about their love of death and killing: the fight against the “crusaders”, the police and security forces of Saudi Arabia, is a holy and noble one. “Expel them! Rip them apart! Destroy them until they either die or convert to the true religion”. Western citizens are obviously targets and do not even deserve the option of converting. Victims like the US engineer Paul Marshall Johnson jr., who worked for a company who run Apache helicopters, are simply be-headed – for once, Hacker does spare us the gruesome details, and leaves us with the black images with ‘snow’, which always ends when the videos of the ‘other side’ are about to begin. Older generations will recognise this from the small black and white TV sets, appearing when the programmes of the day were over- quiet a symbolic reference indeed.

In 2004 Al-Qaeda switched targets after they were heavily criticised for killing high numbers of Muslims in their attacks. From now they would attack compounds like Al Hamra, killing foreigners in great numbers. The attack on the oil refinery of Abqaiq could have seriously damaged the Saudi economy if it had succeeded as planned. And in 2009 the Saudi security minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, escaped an assassination attempt, after his forces eliminated more and more cells, like the whole Saudi-Arabian leadership of the Jihad fighters, who had hid in a village villa. Their leaders were killed by the police at roadblocks or petrol stations. But sometimes Al Qaeda got away with murder on a grand scale: a member telling proudly the story how they escaped “after having shot western citizens in a shopping mall, we had a good breakfast, and then Allah made sure, that the forces of the evil-doers did not find us when we fled”.      

All told this offers bloody evidence in the videos from both sides of the hostilities: Nothing is spared in a repetitive cold blooded murder fest. The older zealots send their youth on the gratuitous killing sprees – just for the hell of it. Whilst utterly brilliant, Path of Blood is not for the faint-hearted. Unlike the realistic fiction in films such as The Hurt Locker, this is disturbingly chilling and real. AS

PATH OF BLOOD will be released in cinemas 13th July

Picturehouse Central – London Premiere – 10th July

Curzon DocDays – 17th & 19th July

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