×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Path of Blood’

The mask comes off of Islamic terrorism in a disturbing documentary that assembles home-movie footage of Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia after 9/11.

Director:
Jonathan Hacker
Release Date:
Jul 13, 2018

Official Site: http://www.pathofbloodfilm.com/

When criminals wear masks, it lends them a stylized, otherworldly quality. Since we can’t see their faces, we tend to think of their identity as more abstract (i.e., as Evil). The movies have always understood this, and so have the leaders of terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan or Al Qaeda, who project a hooded-horror iconography — let’s call it a dark kind of showbiz — to express the fearsome power of their ideologies. After 9/11, the black facial scarves worn by members of Al Qaeda in the group’s widely seen videos (the training-camp recruitment films, the hideous kidnapping and beheading tapes) served the purpose of concealing who they were, but they were also a way of creating a warning to the West. The warning said: We’re not just your enemy — we’re a supervillain.

Or maybe, in their own eyes, a superhero.

The startling documentary “Path of Blood” is comprised almost entirely of home-movie video footage of Islamic jihadists in Saudi Arabia, shot from 2003 to 2009. The footage was captured during raids by Saudi security forces, and what it shows us is the guerrilla war mounted by the followers of Osama bin Laden against the Saudi establishment, which the terrorists viewed as a toxic regime that had spent decades in bed with the United States. It was bin Laden’s grandiose plan to recapture Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam (“The Land of the Two Holy Mosques”), and from there to re-establish a Muslim empire than could take on and destroy the West.

In “Path of Blood,” we see Al Qaeda members driving into the Saudi desert in the dead of night to set up a makeshift training camp, or learning spy-film maneuvers, like how to roll forward and fire a gun, or how to plant a car bomb, or sitting around with rocket launchers before they head out on a mission to murder “infidels,” who in their eyes could be anyone who works for the Saudi government. At one point they smuggle a bomb into a meeting with a prince, a feat that they accomplish by inserting the bomb into a terrorist’s body through his rectum. When it blows up (an event we hear without video), the prince walks away with barely a scratch, but you have to say this: That’s probably one terrorist technique they never learned about in the CIA.

In the year or two after 9/11, when the world was flooded with images of Muslim terrorists shrouded in black, it was impossible not to imagine the faces under those masks as solemn, glowering, raging, implacable. But in “Path of Blood,” the masks come off, and we literally see the faces of Al Qaeda in action, with the propaganda machine turned off. What’s shocking is how ordinary and high-spirited they appear.

They are young, most of them, in their teens or early twenties, and they grin and joke and have wheelbarrow races and are visibly at peace with the fact that they’re training to be martyrs. They turn the pillars of Islamic fundamentalism into a kind of deadly larger-than-life fantasy — almost a comic-book fantasy. The “superhero” they’re fighting on behalf of is God. The superhero’s earthly representative is Osama bin Laden. And the evil entity they’re out to defeat is a single united force: “The Crusaders.” This is more than ideology; it’s a mythology they’re part of. We knew all this, of course, yet to see it play out in “Path of Blood” — to see young men grinning like kids at religious youth camp as they get ready to destroy themselves — is to be newly chilled by the alternate reality they’re living inside.

“Path of Blood” was directed by Jonathan Hacker, who co-wrote (with Thomas Small) the book on which the film is based, and his radical technique is to employ none of the traditional methods that give a documentary its shape or a documentary audience its bearings. There are no talking heads, no data or analysis. For 90 random and often bloody minutes, we’re dunked into the raw life of Al Qaeda. A little of this can go a long way, yet “Path of Blood” does have a verité “thriller” element. It shows us the Saudi Arabian officials trying to crack down on their internal enemy — a cat-and-mouse game built around conflicts that are still tearing away at the country’s identity.

Watching “Path of Blood,” with its scattered, meandering, grippingly caught panorama of what we used to call “the post-9/11 world,” it’s easy to get drawn into feeling that the dark eruption has now receded a bit. The truth, of course, is that these tensions haven’t gone anywhere — except, at times, underground. “Path of Blood” is a sobering reminder of that fact. It shows you the power of rage that’s held together by the serenity of belief.

Film Review: 'Path of Blood'

Reviewed at IFC Center, New York, July 17, 2018. MPAA Rating: Not rated. Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: A Paladin release of a Page 1, OR Media production. Producer: Jonathan Hacker. Executive producers: Mark Boal, Abdulrahman Al Rashed, Adel Alabdulkarim.

Crew: Director: Jonathan Hacker. Editor: Peter Haddon, Kirsi Pyy, Bob H. Woodward. Music: Chad Hobson.

More Film

  • Jodie Foster'Money Monster' photocall, Palais, 69th

    Film News Roundup: Jodie Foster to Direct, Star in Remake of Icelandic Thriller

    In today’s film news roundup, Jodie Foster is remaking Iceland’s “Woman at War,” the Art Directors Guild honors production designers Anthony Masters and Ben Carre, “47 Meters Down: Uncaged” gets cast and Melissa Takal directs “New Year New You” for Hulu. PROJECT ANNOUNCEMENT Jodie Foster will direct, co-produce and star in an English-language remake of [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal to Star in Remake of Denmark's Oscar Entry 'The Guilty' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bold Films, and Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker’s Nine Stories banner have acquired the rights to remake the Danish thriller “The Guilty,” with Gyllenhaal attached to star. The pic won the world cinema audience award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and was also named one of the top five foreign language films of 2018 by [...]

  • Toxic Avenger

    'Toxic Avenger' Movie in the Works at Legendary

    Legendary Entertainment is developing “The Toxic Avenger” as a movie after acquiring the feature film rights. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz of Troma Entertainment will serve as producers. Alex Garcia and Jay Ashenfelter will oversee for Legendary. Kaufman and Herz produced the original 1984 comedy, set in the fictional town of Tromaville, N.J., and centered [...]

  • Constance Wu

    'Crazy Rich Asians' Star Constance Wu in Negotiations for Romantic Comedy

    “Crazy Rich Asians” star Constance Wu is in talks to join Sony’s Screen Gems’ untitled romantic comedy, with Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman producing. “GLOW” actress Kimmy Gatewood is making her feature directorial debut on the project. She will be directing from a Savion Einstein script about a woman who becomes pregnant with two babies [...]

  • Maggie Gyllenhaal AoA

    Maggie Gyllenhaal on Why a Woman Director Doesn't Automatically Make a Story More Feminine

    Having a female director doesn’t automatically make a story more feminine, says “The Kindergarten Teacher” star Maggie Gyllenhaal, but when it comes to her film with director Sara Colangelo, she says the female narrative is fully encapsulated. “Just because something is written or directed by a woman doesn’t necessarily make it a feminine articulation,” she says [...]

  • Kevin Hart Hurricane Harvey

    Academy Looks Warily at Oscar Host Options as Board Meeting Looms

    Kevin Hart’s abrupt departure as Oscars host has left the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences scrambling to find someone to take the gig. As of now, the situation remains fluid as the group’s leadership explores options, including going host-less, individuals familiar with the situation told Variety. The Academy was blindsided by Hart’s announced departure Thursday [...]

  • Regina King Maggie Gyllenhaal

    Maggie Gyllenhaal, Regina King on Intimacy Experts: 'I Could Have Used the Help When I Was Younger'

    Maggie Gyllenhaal’s sex-trade industry series “The Deuce” features one job that’s unlike any other in television: an intimacy expert. During her Variety Actors on Actors interview with Regina King, “The Kindergarten Teacher” actress explained how the strange role is actually important in helping young actresses stand up for themselves, especially when it comes to sex scenes on [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content