Big Bad Wolves (2013)

Review #1,064

Director:  Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado
Cast:  Lior AshkenaziRotem KeinanTzahi Grad
Plot:  A series of brutal murders puts the lives of three men on a collision course: The father of the latest victim now out for revenge, a vigilante police detective operating outside the boundaries of law, and the main suspect in the killings - a religious studies teacher arrested and released due to a police blunder.

Genre:  Comedy / Crime / Drama
Awards:  Nom. for Camera d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime:  110min
Rating:  M18 for violence and gore.

“It might look like I'm enjoying this, and maybe I am in a way... but believe me, I'd be happy to stop breaking your fingers.  Now would you please start talking!”

One of the most provocative movies to come out of Israel in recent years, Big Bad Wolves combines a good dose of violence and gore with a thoughtfully constructed blueprint befitting of a mystery-thriller that is not only eager to please and entertain, but also careful to avoid the unholy trappings of an exploitation piece. 

As much as it has been marketed as a torture-thriller, Big Bad Wolves levels up as a playful, at times meta-filmic encounter with the nature and function of engaging with such a subgenre.  It is not exactly a rule-breaker in any way, but its seemingly simple premise hides a somewhat complex and stylistic stab at politics, dark humour and morbid perversity.

The duo Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado write and direct this Tarantino-lite picture about three men heading for a collision course at a deserted country-house with a basement semi-converted into a makeshift torture chamber.  The reason?  A girl has been brutally tortured, raped and murdered. 

The father of the deceased is adamant he has got the right killer, buys that country-house with the intention to torture him, while a detective forced out of the case tries to get even and tails the same alleged killer.  The third person is but of course the suspect, unceremoniously let loose by the bungling police.  It is a coming together of wolves and the result is bloody yet fun. 

The performances are excellent, but the filmmakers' mastery of tone is most outstanding, except for a scene involving the baking of a cake accompanied by a distracting song that threatens to mess the mood up.  Maybe it's just me, but the song insertion was ill-advised, even if it may have been intended as an offbeat cue. 

Big Bad Wolves masquerades as a dark comedy.  The witty dialogue is meant to lighten the mood, while at the same time drawing attention to its dark and perverse subject matter.  The atmosphere is tight, suspenseful, yet also calming.  This is what I meant by the filmmakers’ mastery of tone. 

Tarantino has called it the best film of the year.  I am surprised because it is not a great film, just a good, memorable one.  But then again, it’s the kind of picture he will enjoy.  And you just might too.

Verdict:  A simple, but thoughtfully constructed torture-thriller masquerading as a dark comedy.


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