While I wouldn’t call it the best film of 2013 as Tarantino has so famously been quoted, Big Bad Wolves certainly is a bold and surprising piece of horror cinema, which borders on satire in all the right ways and still delivers a visceral punch that will stay with you. Israeli directing duo Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado have assembled a harrowing thriller that explores the depths that a man will go in the pursuit of retribution, and the monsters that emerge in response to monstrosity. The exceptionally dark plot is relieved by some unexpected comedy, which helps to carry the film yet never detracts from the intensity and brutality of it all. Although certainly not for the squeamish, Big Bad Wolves is smarter than most films in its genre and remains tense right through to the shocking final minutes.
A young girl is abducted while playing hide-and-seek with two friends, and a school teacher named Dror (Rotem Keinan) is the key suspect. Police detective Micki (Lior Ashkenazi) and a small team of cops beat him up in an attempt to extract a location, but get nowhere and are caught on camera by a local kid who uploads the video to YouTube. When the girl’s body is found with her head missing and the video of the beating goes viral, Micki is fired and Dror gets off scott free. Micki then decides to kidnap and torture Dror for a confession in order to clear his name, but does not expect the intervention of the deceased girl’s father Gidi (Tzahi Grad), a retired military man with some demons of his own. Things continue to intensify between the three men, leading to a surprise ending that only one of them could have predicted.
The strength of this Israeli thriller certainly lies in its ability to laugh at itself, to the point of nearly becoming a parody of the “torture porn” horror genre (which it also qualifies for). The violence is intense and visceral with some very realistic practical effects work, but the most troubling aspect of the film – and certainly the most thought-provoking – ends up being the ongoing uncertainty surrounding Dror’s innocence or guilt. It remains the central element that toys with us as a viewer, and even makes us consider our motivations for watching a film like this. We question whether the horrors that unfold are the deserved comeuppance of a monstrous pedophile, or a horrific case of mistaken identity, which then begs the question: why is it ok for us to feel good about it if he’s guilty? Some may believe they’ve figured the truth out before the reveal at the end, but the film is structured in a way that it could realistically go either way, which is magnetic as a means of building suspense and hooking the viewer.
The excellent cast really brings everything to life, as all of the three leading players are phenomenal in their respective roles. I found Tzahi Grad to be particularly strong and funny as the mourning father Gidi, who is convinced without a doubt of Dror’s guilt despite anything that he says. Lior Ashkenazi’s Detective Micki is not quite as certain, and begins to consider the things that Dror says in defence, providing an excellent contrast to Gidi’s stone-cold resolve. They almost become a buddy-cop duo for a little while, torturing Dror together in what is quite possibly the funniest torture scene I’ve ever seen, as weird as that sounds. I must also mention the surprisingly hilarious turn by veteran Israeli comedian Doval’e Glickman as Gidi’s father – the grandfather of the deceased girl – who probably has the best character in the film. And of course, Rotem Keinan is effectively puzzling as the suspect Dror, sitting like an enigma in the centre of the film.
Big Bad Wolves feels like a punch to the face to films like Hostel, as the question of guilt on the part of the viewer is placed at the forefront and dissected, instead of simply brushed under the carpet. For this reason, I wholly enjoyed watching it, even as it lowered itself into the filth of the genre conventions. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to just anyone, but those who can handle their horror films and who have a good sense of humour will likely soak up Big Bad Wolves, right up until the final shot. It is an extremely well-crafted and entertaining look at a rather disgusting genre of horror that has become all the more prevalent in the last decade, and its humour makes it more enjoyable than any film like this has a right to be.
Big Bad Wolves will be available on Blu-Ray and DVD on April 22, courtesy of VSC.
4 . 5 / 5 S T A R S