When Quentin Tarantino crowns a film his “Favorite Movie Of The Year,” it’s impossible not to become hypnotized by expectations just a teensy bit. As a critic, it’s extremely important to go into any film with an open mind, no matter what the hype might suggest, but when someone of Tarantino’s status puts such an emphatic recommendation on a film, how can you not get a little excited? Big Bad Wolves, an Israeli revenge flick with some sick twists, is the movie that mesmerized Tarantino and provoked his comments, but could writers/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado win over larger audiences along with their not-so secret admirer?
There’s nothing more heartbreaking than a child abduction gone horribly wrong, as no father should have to bury his daughter or son – especially in a headless state. In the latest case of demented perversion, a killer may have picked the wrong family to tear apart, as distraught father Gidi (Tzahi Grad) attempts to take matters into his own hands. With Dror (Rotem Keinan) being the most prominent suspect, Gidi plots some torturous revenge of his own, but he may not be the only one. Miki (Lior Ashkenazi), a renegade police detective, also has his sights set on getting a confession out of Dror any way he can, but when the paths of these three men collide in a cataclysmic turn of events, it’s hard to tell who will have the final say. Is Dror guilty? Will Gidi get revenge? Can Miki put an end to the despicable crime spree?
There’s something primal about Big Bad Wolves – something that highlights the depravity not only in the actions of one sick, twisted murderer’s fantasy, but in the cold-blooded revenge Gidi seeks out. An eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind, right? Can the death of a child rapist and murderer really bring soothing retribution to a father with an empty hole in his heart? Sure, revenge thrillers have let the populous wonder what playing Uma Thurman from Kill Bill would be like given the proper chance, but it’s hard to realistically rationalize a story involving a restaurant newly decorated with the limbs of Crazy 88 lackies. Big Bad Wolves enters a realm of eerie horror by delivering a story that not only amps our hero complex a few notches, but carries out these graphic acts of revenge in a calculated, disturbingly believable way. The Devil is in the details, and with a plan that only involves a bolted chair, a secluded house, and a proper tool-kit, revenge doesn’t seem that unattainable.
The real pleasure here is watching the increasingly sadistic dynamic at work between our three characters, as each one brings a different, conflicting persona. You’ve got poor Dror, the man struggling to prove his innocence through vehemently denying the accusations and enduring mass amounts of pain, Gidi, the visibly unflinching father of the dead child whose brutish thoughts of revenge won’t be stopped by anyone, and then Miki, the more calculated, plan-oriented justice seeker stuck between Gidi’s passionate bludgeoning and Dror’s confession of purity. Of course, the biggest, baddest wolf of them all has to be Gidi’s father Yoram (Doval’e Glickman), inserted as an unexpected jolt of energy, but masked as a point of tension. Big Bad Wolves isn’t just a gritty revenge flick, it’s also a beautifully acted description of the different people who scoff at the phrase “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
As far as the “torture porn” type gross-outs some of you might be expecting, Big Bad Wolves isn’t the next Hostel – which is a good thing. Trust me, it’s plenty violent. You’ll find yourself flinching and gorehounds will get their bloodthirsty fill, but milder viewers won’t have to endure the most despicable and vile of actions. In fact, I rather like how Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado manipulate our reactions by teasing a bit of violence, say Gidi lining up his hammer slam, only to have him become distracted at the last minute. Dror appears momentarily revealed, but then instead of prepping us for another attempt, Gidi just waltzs back in the room and hammers Dror’s hand without warning. It’s a cheeky bit of filmmaking tomfoolery, but it works, which is the most important aspect.
Big Bad Wolves huffs, puffs, and blows the competition away, mainly because there’s no Israeli genre for films like this – yet. It’s fantastic to see this shocking tale receive wide distribution so rapidly, because not only does Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s film deserve home country praise, but it easily matches up against international genre entries from around the globe. There’s a certain primal ferocity and grounded planning that makes Big Bad Wolves one wickedly delicious fairytale from Hell, as it takes a special type of awesome to turn childhood folklore into something so evil – but so damn enjoyable. Does that make me crazy?