Path of Blood, directed by British documentarian Jonathan Hacker and based on his book of the same title, is pieced together from home movies made by members of Al-Qaeda, as well as footage shot by security forces from 2003 to 2009. There are no interviews and there is no commentary — just a simple commitment to laying out events as they transpired. Unfortunately, that detachment turns out to be the documentary’s greatest weakness, as the resulting over-objectivity robs the film of any sense of narrative or purpose.
It’s not quite clear what the film is meant to accomplish. To be sure, the footage is remarkable. Young, would-be jihadists are seen joking around and competing in wheelbarrow races, as well as waving off any serious questions as to why they’re so willing to martyr themselves or what they think the consequences will be. It’s a refusal to engage that’s reflected on the part of the filmmaker, too, especially once the footage begins to include the bloody aftermath of the recruits’ attacks, which mostly affect the communities around them rather than any foreign powers. The repeated sight of corpses is unnerving and upsetting, and seems to be meant to shock rather than to necessarily cultivate empathy or awareness.
Documentary is an inherently tricky field, requiring objectivity, but Path of Blood leans so far into it that any sense of narrative or purpose dissolves. There’s no discernible reason for this story to be told; simply showcasing unseen footage isn’t enough to construct an entire film.
Path of Blood
Directed by Jonathan Hacker
Opens July 13, IFC Center
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 11, 2018