Directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, who also brought you the stellar psycho-killer entry Rabies a few years ago, return with a more mature film that’s meticulously crafted and surprisingly funny. The dreamy innocence of Red Riding Hood only lasts until the end of its memorable opening credits scene; from then on out Big Bad Wolves moves into darker territory that deals with everything from YouTube to pedophilia.
Focusing on three men – a desperate investigator (Lior Ashkenazi), a crazed father (Tzahi Grad), and a suspect turned victim (Rotem Keinan) – all affected by a series of sacrilegious serial murders involving teen girls, the situation is pretty grim right from the start. Public perception is already against the supposed killer, and a viral video capturing the cop beating the accused man has caused him to turn into more of a vigilante than a police officer. After finding out the father of one of the teen girls (recently beheaded) is following the same suspect, both men enter into a sort of gentlemen’s agreement: torture the supposed killer until he tells them both where the heads are buried. Eventually, all three men wind up at a remote cabin in Gypsy country where the bloodthirsty father can begin to go to work on the suspected man with the help of a growingly reluctant lawman. When the grandfather, an ex-soldier, comes to check on his increasingly distant son, things really heat up.
Suffering just for the sake of suffering has become a crutch in a lot of genre fare, and needless pain and buckets of blood to only satiate gorehounds is lazy filmmaking. These kinds of moments play out in Big Bad Wolves, but it’s often done for comic relief or used as a way to subvert expectations. There are definitely some brutal moments that the camera doesn’t shy away from but it doesn’t linger on them either. The relationship and power dynamic also continues to change throughout these exchanges so it never feels gratuitous. As the night moves on, down in the basement of a remote cabin (where most of the story transpires), these men reveal the evil in themselves while trying to force another man to reveal the evil in himself.
At one point, the father turns to the cop and says, “The only thing maniacs are afraid of is other maniacs.” That’s the driving force mantra of Big Bad Wolves in a nutshell. Where is the line if you keep crossing it? Rage and grief are already great motivators, but if a psychopath potentially lies slumbering inside you, the right push can really put you over the edge. Whatever pain this father inflicts is justified because of the loss of his daughter, but the question still comes up anyway: Should this really be allowed to continue? That’s another reason why the torture in the movie is interesting and essential, and why the characters are consistently surprising.
Directors Keshales and Papushado have graduated to another plateau with Big Bad Wolves, showing a sure-handed, sometimes masterful execution of a deceptively simple story that balances a number of different tones without ever running into itself. The last shot is even further proof to how well the story has been constructed. Given its setting, everything should feel claustrophobic and insignificant as far as the outside world is concerned, but instead what’s happening feels intimate and immediate, with real-world stakes that threaten to interrupt the sadistic interrogation before the truth is finally known.
4 out of 5