Movie Review: Big Bad Wolves
As seen at the Stanley Film Festival
By Bruce Hall
May 16, 2013
Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado are best known - to those who know them at all - as two of Israel's up and coming filmmakers. Their inaugural effort - called Rabies - is one of 2010's most notable foreign films, and is purportedly the first ever Israeli horror movie. Their follow up is this year's Big Bad Wolves, a riveting and often very funny comedy/horror thriller that follows the hunt for a serial killer through the eyes of the cop pursuing him, and the victim's distraught father. I'm telling you now; this movie isn't afraid to make some hard choices, or to challenge its audience with some big ideas. It won't be everyone's idea of a good time but if their work continues to evolve at this rate, Keshales and Papushado are going places.
The funny thing about Big Bad Wolves is that it’s actually kind of funny, but not before it’s really, really not. The movie sets up a powerfully disturbing tonal contrast and coyly dangles it in front of you for two hours. It begins with a haunting, slow motion scene of three children at play inside an abandoned house. As they frolic, a grim, almost operatic score swells and hits its crescendo with the disappearance of one of the girls. All that remains is a tiny red shoe, and as the stylishly dour titles appear, it's obvious we're about to be screwed with. We all know there's nothing remotely funny about the abduction of a child...right?
But the very next scene involves a cop and two hired goons beating the shit out of a suspect with a level of panache I would normally associate with Scorsese. Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) is the lead detective on the missing girl’s case. Thanks to an eyewitness tip, suspicion has fallen on a sniveling grade school teacher named Dror (Rotem Keinan). Unable to obtain a confession, Miki has hired a pair of heavies to jog the suspect's memory. Righteous indignation and the thrill of illegal activity are too much for them, and things start getting out of hand - until Miki's boss calls and puts a stop to it. A very black, Cohenesque streak of humor runs through the scene, so much so that I completely missed the part about the eyewitness description.
The sudden change in tone was so profoundly effective that I accidentally laughed right over a critical plot point. I mentioned this to Aharon Keshales after the screening and I would describe his reaction as "bemused". I'd say he either thought I was an idiot, or there will be a hasty set of reshoots (har). Either way, the point is that Big Bad Wolves brilliantly, meticulously lays out a horrifying set of stakes, and then lightens things up just enough to get you to let down your guard. But the bitter taste from that first scene never leaves you, rotting in the pit of your gut like bad shrimp. The outrage you instinctively feel toward one who would harm a child still lingers, ready to be recalled by the filmmakers whenever they want to get back into your head.