Big Bad Wolves (Mi mefakhed mehaze’ev hara)
Israel (2013) Dirs. Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado
When a young girl goes missing during a game of hide and seek school teacher Dror (Rotem Keinan) is arrested by the police, and given a beating by detective Micki (Lior Ashkenazi) to reveal the girl’s location. Instead the information comes from an unknown caller. When they arrive at the spot the girl’s headless, sexually abused body is found strapped to a chair. However the beating of Dror was filmed by a boy on his phone and uploaded to YouTube. As a result Micki is taken off the case and suspended but he continues to pursue Dror regardless. Also looking for answers, and revenge, is the girl’s father Gidi (Tzahi Grad), a retired military officer who decides to take matters into his own hands.
Believe it or not this is actually a comedy, but a pitch black one at that. Even more remarkable is that it comes from Israel, a country which one would expect to produce films similar to its Middle East neighbours in Iran – dour but compelling and emotive dramas based around religious or political ideals. If anything Big Bad Wolves is closer to European cinema than Middle Eastern, the closest comparison being films from the Nordic area; it could very easily fit in with the likes of Dead Snow, Troll Hunter or Jackpot in both aesthetic and content.
For most people the main attraction of this film will be the glowing endorsement from one Quentin Tarantino, who proclaimed this the best films of 2013. As someone who isn’t a fan of Tarantino his opinion means little to me – I would have seen it regardless – but others are likely to be heavily by this lofty recommendation. While I can’t heap such lavish and enthusiastic praise on this film I can agree that it is a pretty interesting and occasionally funny and gory romp.
Unfortunately one of the problems with the story are the plot holes, the main one being why Dror was suspected by the police in the first place, which is never explained. It’s one thing to keep the tension up about his supposed innocence or guilt but this is something that hangs over the entire proceedings like a bad smell. Anyway our hapless suspect is given a good old pounding by Micki with a phone book (!) which makes him an internet hit but not one with his superiors, especially as the information came from another, anonymous source.
Meanwhile Gidi, under the guise of being a writer, has hired a remote country house which he ensures is sound proof being installing some bespoke furniture. Having followed Micki in his pursuit of Dror, Gidi attacks them both and takes them to his retreat where he offers Micki a deal – he gets to torture Dror for the truth then hand him over to Micki. But Dror’s persistent denial of culpability and the punishment he takes causes Micki to have second thoughts, which Gidi doesn’t take kindly to.
The script plays with a common theme for all three men – that they are fathers to young girls. Micki is divorced with his daughter living with his ex-wife; Dror is in the same boat but has a daughter whose birthday he was celebrating the night before his abduction. Gidi is also having troubles with his wife, thanks to his affair with his secretary which indirectly lead to his daughter’s demise. It is this common bond that both connects and separates the trio in the eyes of each other – while the parental theme also provides the film with its humorous core.
In case you were wondering how this comedy aspect fits in, it amazingly being once the torture starts, as strange as that may seem. The interplay between Gidi and Micki during the interrogation reveals an amusing double act in the making but it is the constant sources of interruption that bring the most levity – Gidi’s parents!! His mother is on the phone with her two penny’s worth of opinion then his father Yoram (Doval’e Glickman) that raises the laughs, treating us to second comedy double act of the film. While the torture inflicted upon Dror is often stomach churning and eye watering it is the dead pan delivery of Yoram that makes it impossible not to enjoy a guilty chortle or two.
With the conceit of the film being the mystery of the abducted and abused children an ambiguous ending is to be expected and Messrs Keshales and Papushado oblige accordingly. However it is one that makes sense if you pay close attention to the first half of the film. The problem here is that while clues are supposed to be dotted throughout for the audience to pick up on later; here the clues are laid out on the first act then resurface for the denouement, after we’ve been distracted with the ruthless torture of Dror. But don’t take this as a spoiler, just a warning to keep your eyes keenly peeled on everything you see!
Despite the flaws in the script Keshales and Papushado show they are capable of crafting a decent revenge thriller while their horror credentials from their debut Rabies, ensures the torture scenes are effectively upsetting. The cast are essentially the three principles, who create distinct enough characters for a unique three way dynamic, aided by the late addition of Yoram. The photography, camerawork and production values incur no complaints and show us that modern day Israel is a very picturesque and developed country in comparison to its neighbours.
Not quite the best film of 2013 by a stretch but a hugely enjoyable outing nonetheless, Big Bad Wolves is an eye opener in terms of showing us what Israeli cinema is capable of. Given time, some more experience and a bit more application to the scripts, the Keshales and Papushado team could rival the Nordic Noir directors for dark, edgy thrillers.