Title: Big Bad Wolves
Director: Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
Starring: Tzahi Grad, Rotem Keinan, Lior Ashkenzai, Dvir Benedek, Kais Nashif, Guy Adler, Doval'e Glickman, Nati Kluger, Menashe Noy, Gur Bentvitch
Plot: Following a series of violent murders of young girls, three men soon find their lives on a collision course with each other. Gidi (Grad) the father of the latest victim now fuelled with a lust for revenge, Miki (Ashkenzai) a rouge police detective and Dror (Keinan) a school teacher and main suspect, who despite being arrested once already by Gidi only to be released due to Miki and his teams’ vigilante actions. Now Dror finds himself captured again by Gidi and the now suspended Miki who are determined to get him to confess to the murders they believe he is responsible for.
Review: While Israeli cinema might not be over well renown outside of World Cinema fans, it certainly seems to be something which directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado are trying to change, as having launched their careers by making Israel’s first horror film with their debut “Rabies” they now follow it up by essentially giving the country its second with this film, which also comes with a glowing recommendation from Quentin Tarantino who proclaimed it as being the “Best Film of The Year”.
Opening to the slowed down footage of children playing hide and seek, while one of them is kidnapped, the film is attention grabbing from the start especially when combined with the sinister score provided by Frank llfman, who also provided the soundtrack for “Rabies” and whose score is equally memorable here aswell, as it perfectly sets the mood for the film throughout. From this memorable opening we first meet Miki and his team carrying out their own brand of outlaw justice as they attempt to interrogate Dror in an abandoned building and attempting to beat a confession out of him, only to have the plug pulled before they get the answers they want, while more grudgingly being forced to apologise and release Dror. It is a surprising scene to open with and one only made the more surreal by the rich vein of black humour which flows throughout this scene. This scene though is really a taste of what is to follow as the film balances out scenes of brutal torture with pitch black humour making it a kind of torture porn with jokes.This of course is the most loosest of descriptions as this film is equally a taut thriller and one which grabs you from its opening moments right down to its final chilling twists. Needless to say it is also a film were its directors choose to play their cards close to their chest throughout giving out small and seemingly unimportant hints, only to pull them all together during the finale as they suddenly become a lot more important than first perceived. Equally the actual guilt of Dror is one left worryingly under a cloud of presumption bringing back memories of Donna Tartt’s second novel “The Little Friend” which told its own tale of revenge against a subject seemingly picked at random, though thankfully this film does finally reveal the answer regarding Dror’s guilt by the closing credit, but certainly not after making the audience question the actions of Gidi and Miki.
While the film works perfectly well with these three main characters, we also get the surprise appearance of Gidi’s father who arrives to drop off soup while staying to weld a blowtorch. At this point Gidi has already had time to show his dark side as he sets out to seemingly cross off every grisly detail of the police report by re-inacting them on Dror. Gidi’s father however soon reveals his own darker side as he joins in, while also providing numerous darkly comedic moments, such as an impromptu argument with his wife over the phone about taking his medication and a sudden lust for Barbeque after showcasing an alternative use for the blowtorch.
Of course such asides could easily derail the film and its only a further credit to the directing duo that nothing is lost by the frequently random aside, such as a local wandering Arab, a drugged cake or the frequent comical moments such as Miki receiving a dressing down by his superior and their son. These like the frequently interrupting ringtones instead help to relieve some of the tension, especially as certain members of the group begin to doubt their actions, while equally stopping the film from getting too heavy or away from its dark comedy core.
Needless to say the torture is certainly a key element here and while it might not be as voyeuristic as that seen in Eli Roth’s “Hostel” trilogy. The film does however really come with quite a bite in some of these scenes, several of which left me squirming in my seat as I waited for a sudden cut away which never comes. While these scenes certainly come with an unexpected brutal edge, there is constantly an undertone throughout the film questioning whether such actions are ever truly effective methods of interrogation? Needless to say it is a popular subject of debate as of late something which has been looked at in several films as of late such as “Zero Dark Thirty” and one continued here if abet more subtley and certainly without the preachy edge.
The real strength of this film through lies in the casting in particular the three central characters who for the most part are left to carry the film themselves. A feat not especially easy to carry out and while none of the cast might not be known outside of their native Israel it only further works to the films advantage as it allows the audience to view these characters with no preconceptions. This especially works to the advantage of Grad who comes off when we first meet him as the kind of slow witted parental figure. Needless to say he perfectly sells Gidi’s turn to the dark side of vigilantism aswell as his single minded determination to get Dror to reveal the location of his murdered daughters head. What is more remarkable though is that no matter how brutal the acts he carries out there is still a part of you which sides with him, even as his actions become frequently more questionable. Ashkenzai meanwhile gets to play things largely for laughs as the rouge detective and helps to stop the mood from getting too dark, especially as he finds himself increasingly deeper than he no doubt would like, even more so when he finds himself becoming an unwilling observer when he also gets chained up in the basement by Gidi. Finally Keinan is through ally convincing as the accused Dror and really keeps you guessing as to if he is the killer or not.
A confident and stylish film, it clearly proves that their debut was no fluke while certainly making me curious to see were they go next, while making me curious to know what other cinematic treats Israel might be hiding. At the same time I wouldn’t exactly agree with Tarantino’s branding this the “Film of The Year” it is still a gripping thriller and unquestionably one of the better films, though for myself the heavier torture scenes really took away from my enjoyment of the film and rating it higher, but unquestionably this is brave and exciting film making at its best.