Big Bad Wolves
Hebrew title: Mi Mefahed Mi Haze’ev Hara?
Written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
With Rotem Keinan, Lior Ashkenazi, Tzahi Grad
Running time: 110 minutes.
In Hebrew. Check with theaters for subtitle information
Directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado were a huge success on the film festival circuit with their debut film Rabies three years ago. Fans of the film hailed it as a subtle twist on the horror/psycho killer genre, as strange and increasingly violent incidents start taking place deep in a forest. The fact that the film was from Israel added to its novelty and cachet. I was one of the few critics who didn’t join the party, as I found its characters and their gory psychodramas superficial and lacking in suspense. Still, the idea of Israeli horror is intriguing, and I looked forward to their new film, Big Bad Wolves.
Big Bad Wolves is a much better film, far better written and more intricately plotted than Rabies.
Its characters are horror-genre archetypes, and the cast has a great time chewing the scenery. It is also extremely suspenseful, with some humor and subtle and not-so-subtle irreverence toward the Israeli macho-man stereotype. The bad news, for many viewers, is that it is so unrelentingly violent that only hard-core horror junkies will be able to sit through it.
The story is simple. A mildmannered Bible studies teacher, Dror (Rotem Keinan), is suspected of kidnapping, sexually abusing and murdering a little girl. Two cops, Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) and Rami (Menashe Noy), participate in beating and torturing the suspect to try to get a confession out of him. This beating is caught on a video that goes viral on YouTube, and Miki, who is already in hot water with his boss (Dvir Benedek), is suspended. But the commander tells Miki in no uncertain terms to continue his pursuit of the suspect.
Meanwhile, the girl’s body is found, headless and horribly mutilated.
The victim’s father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), becomes an avenging angel, hellbent on extracting a confession from Dror. He rents an isolated house and kidnaps Dror, with Miki coming along for the ride.
The heart of the film is the triangle of the furious father out for revenge, the accused killer pleading for his life, and the reasonably normal Miki, whose instincts tell him that Dror is the killer, but who isn’t sure. Gidi won’t quit until Dror reveals what he did with the girl’s head, and Gidi isn’t sure he can trust Miki. Most of the film consists of scenes of Miki chained to a pipe, Dror strapped into a chair, and Gidi sitting back, trying to decide what torture to try next. Dror is the helpless intellectual, overpowered by the corrupt cop and the utterly amoral, sardonic Gidi. Gidi is like a nightmare version of those Israeli males who want to win every argument; if you challenge him, you might just end up like Dror.
Much of the film’s black humor comes from Gidi’s conversations with his overbearing mother. When his mild-mannered father (Doval’e Glickman) appears, bearing homemade soup, at first he seems like a milquetoast, but soon we see that Gidi has inherited a lot of his violence and rage from his old man.
There are almost no women in the movie, although conflicts with adult females and love for their innocent daughters are the common thread that binds the main characters: Gidi was cheating on his wife and has split up with her, then has to defend his decision to his angry mother; Miki bickers with his ex-wife; and Dror has a daughter but is no longer with her mother. Girl children are angelic and are glimpsed in a ballet class, while adult women are simply nuisances at best.
At moments it’s fun to watch the psychological drama unfold, and Grad is especially good as the vengeful father, but much of the movie is stomach-churning and visually flat (with the exception of a beautifully filmed and choreographed opening of children at play).
As I was leaving the theater, I saw a group of teenage girls, one of whom was crying and asking the others, “Why? Why would someone make a movie like that?” I could have told her, “Because there are people who enjoy movies like that.”
But as she grows up, she’ll find out about the big bad wolves for herself.