January 17, 2014 (Limited theatrical and US DVD)
Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Guy Adler as Eli
Lior Ashkenazi as Miki
Dvir Benedek as Tsvika
Gur Bentwich as Shauli
Doval'e Glickman as Yoram
Tzahi Grad as Gidi
Rotem, Keinan as Dror
Nati Kluger as Eti
Justice can be sweet, but the pursuit of one man’s perception of justice can lead to atrocities and tyranny, and when “justice” crosses the line to revenge, it is not such a stretch for that quest to become all-consuming and threaten one’s very humanity.
The Israeli horror thriller Big Bad Wolves has a few key players – a religious studies teacher (Rotem Keinan as “Dror”) suspected of a series of child rape and murders, the father of a recent victim of the at-large serial killer Gidi (Tzahi Grad) and a rogue homicide detective Micki (Lior Ashkenazi) who’s strong-arm tactics cross the line of reasonable law enforcement and compel the department to let their prime suspect go free. After a YouTube video of police brutality by Micki goes viral on the Internet and forces the release of Dror from custody, Gidi decides to take matters into his own hands and commit the same tortures and mutilations against Dror as the serial killer has performed on his young female victims, until he confesses.
Big Bad Wolves is wrought with complexities and contrasts, made more intense by the fact that there are definite dark comedy elements providing a stark inconsistency to the torture transpiring on screen. To treat such subject matter in a way that is not particularly dark has the effect of making things even darker. The obsessed father Gidi is quite collected and seemingly rational, even droll, as he proceeds to break a man’s fingers and perform other more dastardly deeds. The rogue cop Micki is much more the loose cannon, and although he did direct thugs to beat Dror senseless and even had him dig his own grave then stand inside while he used a modified version of Russian Roulette to try and force a confession, the tortures inflicted by Gidi give him pause as well.
The themes run through Big Bad Wolves are many, including the morality of “the ends justify the means” and the concept of the victim becoming the victimizer. There is always a shadow of doubt through the film as to whether Dror is actually the killer or not, making this style of revenge film more uncomfortable and in the gray area than direct role reversal films like I Spit on Your Graveor Last House on the Left. The quest for justice, then revenge, and ultimately retribution is a bit of a fast forward of thoughts that most people have had at one time or another, and seeing how far it can go and how dehumanized the perpetrators appear serves as a statement against taking such actions. The whole “innocent until proven guilty” and the right to a trail by jury of one’s peers can seem frustratingly inefficient when it seems clear that the accused is guilty, or when a courtroom technicality results in the freedom of a maniac, but what if the evidence is inconclusive and it is simply the belief of one man that another man is guilty that drives the sentence? That one’s a bit more difficult to neatly file away.
Filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado are no strangers to working together to create a cinematic work, having released the horror film Rabies (Kalvet) in 2011 to generally positive critical reviews and several film festival award nominations and a win for Best Makeup from the Israeli Film Academy and 3rd place in the Fangoria 2013 Chainsaw Awards for Best Foreign-Language film. Big Bad Wolves has started on a good awards track with Israeli Film Academy 2013 wins for Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and best Sound, music and makeup. Early reviews are very positive, and Quentin Tarantino calls Big Bad Wolves “The Best Film of the Year”. Considering Tarantino’s history of quirky mixes of violence, humor and a message, that gives audiences an idea of what to expect. Just be sure and not multi-task while watching this one, because the subtitles are important to follow closely if you don’t speak Israeli.
Big Bad Wolves is a great film, full of intensity and thought provoking themes. The tactics used by the accusers may come into question, as well as the soul-ripping effects of allowing revenge to become obsession, but the dance between understanding why they do what they do and knowing they shouldn’t be doing it definitely has the potential to spawn some lively post-viewing discussion, or at least a bit of quiet reflection.