Big Bad Wolves is an Israeli film written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (Rabies). A film about despair and revenge, it has received a lot of press due to Quentin Tarantino claiming the film to be a favourite of his from 2013, bringing many eyes to it in the process.
There is a psychotic child killer running rampant in Isreal, and Miki, (Lior Ashkenazi), a tough cop, believes he knows who is responsible. He focuses his anger and judgement on Dror (Rotem Keinan), a school-teacher who is soft-spoken and doesn’t look capable of violent crime. Miki, along with a couple of others, kidnap Dror, take him to a derelict warehouse, and beat him, attempting to get a confession from him. The beating isn’t successful and Dror begs for them to let him go and to believe him that he isn’t responsible for the child sex murders that the cops are working so hard to stop. It is also revealed that the murderer removes the children’s heads after he kills them. When the police brutality is filmed by a kid on a phone and posted online, Miki’s boss has to suspend him. Miki still believes that Dror is responsible so he attempts to kidnap him again in order to work harder on getting a confession, but as he is about to do this he runs into Gidi (Tzahi Grad), who knocks Miki out, as well as Dror, and takes them to a house in a quiet place. Gidi, a father to one of the children murdered, tells Miki that he can either help him torture a confession in order to find out where his daughter’s head has been hidden, from Dror, or be killed on the spot. Miki agrees to help, and we see that Gidi’s mourning for his daughter, and his guilt regarding the matter, is causing his madness to grow. With Dror tied to a chair and Gidi entirely convinced that he killed his daughter, he attempts to find out where the head of his daughter is buried so he can give his wife proper closure. Ruthless, brutal and unresponsive to Dror’s pleas of innocence, Gidi begins the torture of the accused man, all the while Miki stands beside him and questions whether or not they are right or wrong in their assumptions.
It is a story that deals with a pitch black subject, a disturbing and horrific matter, yet it manages to inject some humour into the proceedings which lighten the mood. I was surprised that the film managed to do this, it isn’t easy to bring anything funny to a film that speaks about such a terrible subject, but the writing is so good that it does manage to pull it off here. The twists and turns in the story and development of the characters allow a feeling of discomfort to exist throughout, and the madness of Gidi and mild nature of Dror constantly make us wonder if the accused is guilty or not, and how far the persecutors will go to get a confession from his quivering lips.
It is a film reliant on the strength of the writing and the performances, and both aspects are very strong. Grad, as Gidi, is angry and verging on insane, and brings an unpredictability to the film that plays well against the more thoughtful and calm-natured Miki. Ashkenazi, who plays Miki, is layered and though he believes one thing, he seems more willing to see that there is a limit to the brutality. Keinan, as Dror, is excellent here too, his calm demeanour brings a sympathy to him which we constantly question given that we are, from the beginning of the ordeal until the end, pondering whether or not he is responsible for the hideous crimes in which he is being accused. These three men deliver mighty performances here, and bring a variety of emotions and reactions to the screen that create a psychologically intricate web of intrigue in which we, as the viewer, can try to understand and predict.
It isn’t a fast-paced thriller. Big Bad Wolves is a slow-burning animal, a film that looks at things from a blind standpoint, meaning that we don’t know who is in the right, and who is in the wrong, in the situation. There are moral issues, yes, but regardless of those, the big question is always hanging in the air of “is this broken-down father doing the right thing, and is he doing it to the right man?” It is also worth noting that the film, unlike many thrillers that deal with similar subjects, does not tell the whole tale. It leaves many questions open, without answering them, and it pokes at possibilities that we never truly see get wrapped-up. It doesn’t hold your hand, as a viewer, and give you a linear plot with questions followed by answers, but rather brings about a dark mystery that deals with a sickening concept and plays with the chaos that might occur if it were to happen, a chaos that would undoubtedly include a lack of answers and a lack of subtlety.
The topic that the film deals with and the graphic nature of the torture, as well as the explanations of the crimes, will turn stomachs, certainly. This might put some people off, and the violence might be a bit much for some film-goers to deal with. Still, if you can handle the horror that lurks within and enjoy the top notch performances and the dark humour that creeps like an unpredictable phantom into moments where you don’t expect it, then you might just find something special about this movie. I was impressed by the way it told the story and the unrelenting nature of how it did so. Dark and tense, it is a thriller-cum-horror that does plenty of things differently than the usual crop of thriller-flicks, a good thing indeed.