Jerzy Skolimowski’s jarring thriller 11 Minutes segues abruptly between a series of conflicted characters. With each vignette we learn more of their potential fate as this caustic story hurtles towards a climax that will change lives forever.

Set in and around a busy metropolitan square in Warsaw we meet, and eavesdrop upon, a nervous actress (Paulina Chapko) braving the predatory mind games of a Hollywood producer and his casting couch (a devious turn from Richard Dormer). Meanwhile, her jealous husband (Wojciech Mecwaldowski) paces the floors of a luxury hotel desperate to rescue her before we check in with a coked up despatch rider (Dawid Ogrodnik) and a hot dog vendor (Andrzej Chyra) with a murky past. The morphing lens of Skolimowski’s vision involves webcams, smart phones, crash helmet cameras, CCTV and, in one pointless scene, the POV of a dog as the fate of an ambulance crew and a teenaged robber (Lukasz Sikora) become intertwined with a growing cast list of potential cannon fodder. The point here is that, like it or not, we’re all stars of a movie playing somewhere in real time.

Unsettling and dis-jointed though this 82 minutes may be, that’s the point for Skolimowski. The man behind the equally awkward Essential Killing (the 2010 existential political thriller starring Vincent Gallo) challenges his audience to play detective and keep their eyes peeled for the bad omens of impending catastrophe. The twisted smash cut chronology deliberately forces us to reassess the motives and movements of the pawns in his game, however trivial. Meanwhile, an industrial score augmented by the drone of landing jets bluntly hammers home the message that something bad is going to happen. Like, really bad.

The title is somewhat misleading because the film’s action does not actually take place in the same 11 minutes from multiple viewpoints. Skolimowski has said he moved away from this original idea in the writing process and instead the title remains as a “metaphor”. But the problem lies with competing narrative strands which never give us anyone to really care about so when the clock ticks down the incessant tone of nihilism and the rising kinetic frenzy start to grate. However, the veteran Polish auteur saves his reputation with a brilliantly executed finale delivering a crescendo of jaw-dropping mayhem as if Skolimowski is saying, “Look what I can do!” It’s just a shame we’ve seen little to rival this inventiveness throughout the film’s energetic but empty running time.

With each blind alley the story winds down 11 Minutes becomes less of a challenge and more of a chore. Yes, you’ll be initially intrigued but despite his gleeful pyrotechnics you can’t help feeling cheated by a director who serves up a conveyor belt of contrivances and shaggy dog stories before exploding into a visceral Hollywood action homage.