Big Bad Wolves (2013) / Thriller-Comedy
MPAA Rated:Not rated, but would deifnitely be R for grisly and bloody violence, torture, depictions of rape and dismemberment, and language
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Rotem Keinan, Tzahi Grad, Doval'e Glickman, Menashe Noy, Dvir Benedek, Kais Nashif, Nati Kluger
Director:Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Screenplay: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Review published January 30, 2014
Big Bad Wolves starts with the abduction of a schoolteacher named Dror (Keinan, The Exchange) by a group of police officers that are sure that he's the culprit behind a recent rash of child abductions and sadistic murders. They proceed to try to beat a confession out of him, until they're called off by their chief for insufficient evidence, something that the ambitious cop Micki (Ashkenazi, Walk on Water), who is sure of Dror's guilt, just can't stomach. A video uploaded to YouTube gives Dror a bad rep at the school and he's forced to leave, while Micki is suspended frm the police force. However, Micki is sure he can clear his name by proving Dror is guilty, tailing him wherever he goes. Meanwhile, Gidi (Grad, Eyes Wide Open) , a man claiming to be the father of one of the victims, plans to finish the interrogation that the police didn't do on Dror, intent on torturing the teacher who has maintained his absolute innocence until he discloses where the young girl's severed head is hidden.
This film has received some publicity due to a quote by Quentin Tarantino announcing it as the best film of 2013. While it is hardly that, one can see from this Israeli production just why it would appeal to the exploitation filmmaker. First, it has lots of scenes of torture, which is a Tarantino staple, and like his works, there is a great deal of black comedy involved in the most brutal of these scenes. It's telling that the auteur thinks a film that finds its main entertainment in the showcase of graphic torture is worthy of more praise than, say, 12 Years a Slave, which finds it reprehensible.
Big Bad Wolves (the title is an obvious fairy tale reference, especially for "Little Red Riding Hood") is written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, their second effort after the 2010 horror film titled, intruigingly, Rabies. This one is, more or less, a genre exercise that follows the usual cliches of the loose-cannon police thriller and serial killer genres (with elements of the 'torture porn' subgenre), only done with some degree of perverse Hitchcockian humor and fluid directorial style. From a filmmaking standpoint, it's not bad stuff at all, and certainly a film with this much prurient subject matter will keep the attention of nearly anyone who can stomach the high degree of violence throughout the film.
Even so, Keshales and Papushado seem to be recalling amusing moments from other horror films and thrillers than blazing a trail all their own, with the notable exception of a few barbs surrounding Gidi's home being surrounded by Arab abodes. In American theaters, it was beaten to the punch by another film featuring the abduction of a man suspected of serial killing young girls being tortured in a remote location by a desperate father whose daughter has been abducted, in the film Prisoners. Both films also keep the whodunnit element of the torture victim a secret until the end, and both are fairly gimmicky in the way things play out in terms of red herrings. They also leave audiences conflicted about which party they should be rooting for, if they should root for anyone at all. There are problems with tone with Prisoners that this film doesn't have, but only because in Big Bad Wolves there's never really any moment in which we're supposed to take what we're seeing as a serious statement on anything. While some may enjoy it on that level, I do have to say that I find some of the cavalier attitudes toward child abduction, pedophilia, rape, and dismemberment to be too distasteful to build a tongue-in-cheek comedy around, so your mileage will certainly vary as to how much this element will bother you.
Though there are some amusing and thrilling moments to be sure, what keeps Big Bad Wolves from being a good movie rather than just an entertaining one comes from its decidedly glib tone. It's hard to fault its makers too much, as any degree of anguish or despair on the part of its characters would probably tip the film into the realm of becoming unbearable. And yet, when one of the main characters decides to torture another after his daughter has been kidnapped, viciously raped, tortured, and her head cut off while still conscious with a rusty saw, the fact that he is so stoic about it seems wildly out of place, especially for a man willing to kill for retrieval of a body part after the fact -- yes, even in a comedy. To make matters worse, his parents seem even less perturbed, talking to him about completely petty issues as if there weren't an abysmally horrific tragedy that just befell them all to contend with.
While it's an uneasy watch due to the aforementioned subject matter, Big Bad Wolves delivers enough humor, twists (some genuine, some predictable) and moments of intrigue to emerge as a worthwhile viewing for those who like black comedies filmed with flair and can overlook the abhorrent, misplaced use of some very gross subject matter used for cheap, nervous laughter. It's a bit nihilistic and empty, but as a genre excursion, it delivers a certain entertainment that will no doubt leave fans of twisted horror-thrillers giddy.
©2014 Vince Leo