Essential Killing

cast: Vincent Gallo, Emmanuelle Seigner, and David Price

director: Jerzy Skolimowski

81 minutes (15) 2010
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Artificial Eye DVD Region 0

RATING: 8/10
review by Gary Couzens

Essential Killing

In an unnamed desert country, an unnamed Muslim fighter (named ‘Mohammed’ in the end credits but not on screen, played by Vincent Gallo) is captured by the US military. He is interrogated and water-boarded, but says nothing. Then, when the vehicle transporting him falls down a hill, he escapes and goes on the run, in a bitterly cold and snowbound landscape, with the soldiers in pursuit. Mohammed has to resort to desperate measures to survive, to kill or be killed.

The second film that Jerzy Skolimowski has made after a 14-year break, following 2008’s Four Nights With Anna, made not only in his native Poland but also shot in and around his own house, Essential Killing works as a lean, gripping chase thriller. It is careful not to specify setting and background too much (though the locals in the snowy countryside speak Polish), aiming for the abstract feel of a parable. It’s barely reliant on dialogue: Gallo has no lines at all, nor does Emmanuelle Seigner, who appears late on as a mute woman who gives him shelter.

Gallo is strong in a clearly physically demanding role. (For another leading man with no dialogue in a sound film, see 3-Iron. No dialogue is one word fewer than Samson says in Samson & Delilah though.) Gallo’s ‘method’ urge towards realism extended to running barefoot through the snow when his character did, and performing the scene where Mohammed desperately suckles on a lactating woman’s breast with a genuine nursing mother.

Artificial Eye’s DVD is encoded for all regions. The transfer is in the ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. The dialogue is in English with some Arabic and Polish, though please note that the optional English subtitles are not of the hard-of-hearing variety: they only translate the latter two languages. Given the lack of emphasis on dialogue, the soundtrack (in Dolby digital 5.1 and Dolby surround) becomes vitally important. The DVD has an immersive mix with plenty of directional sound, beginning with helicopters in the opening scene, and some heavy bass. At other items, the soundtrack becomes subjective, dropping out entirely apart from a tinnitus whine when Mohammed is temporarily deafened.

The extras comprise a 17-minute interview with Skolimowski, who states that he thinks Essential Killing is his best film – quite a claim when the BFI have recently reissued his 1971 cult movie Deep End after nearly three decades of its being very hard to see. Also on the DVD is the trailer, and a brief item on visual effects showing all the various elements of a shot, including CGI helicopters, before showing us the finished version.