DIRECTOR Aharon Keshales; Navot Papushado WRITER Aharon Keshales; Navot Papushado STARS Lior Ashkenazi; Rotem Keinan; Tzahi Grad DVD 28 April
It’s rare that a film achieves the hype that surrounds it, and Israeli writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s darkly comic and nasty crime story has received countless accolades from festival goers, whilst being widely advertised as Quentin Tarantino’s favourite film of last year. Comparisons to Tarantino are obvious — long scenes of dialogue and some strapped-in-a-chair torture are reminiscent of his style — but in truth this owes more to the Coen Brothers: complex plotting; multiple characters; and just enough quirk to take your mind off the fact you’re starting to sympathise with a character who may or may not be a paedophile child killer. Good news then; Big Bad Wolves is as fine a motion picture as you’ve heard, a brilliantly assured and confident thriller that echoes other movies but offers a very fresh approach.
Opening with a childhood nightmare that shows a girl being snatched from an old house during a game of hide and seek, it then throws us directly into the illegal interrogation of the suspect. This is secretly filmed and uploaded to the web, causing both suspect (a religious studies teacher) and cop to lose their respective jobs, pushing each other to a superb set-piece that involves an open grave and forced confession, before everything turns around with the introduction of a grieving father who has bought a country house with a soundproof basement perfect for his planned extraction of vengeance. But this isn’t cheap torture porn; actions have their reasons, our characters are manipulated as skilfully as the audience, and there are some farcical interruptions to the proceedings — mobile phones, a father who arrives with chicken soup — which are welcome, but you may feel guilty for laughing. With a few exceptions there’s very little bloodletting, with the real horror coming from the sharp script; a scene where the acts committed against the children are described in detail is truly chilling. There’s also some wry political commentary on offer (with a suggestion that all members of the Israeli army are trained in interrogation techniques) and the thought that this is a society built upon a fear of strangers, terrorism and intolerance.
Keshales and Papushado’s first film Rabies was along similar themes but here they have upped the game considerably. Intricate and (purposely) wildly varying in tone, there can only be two possible outcomes to the story, and the mystery is kept almost to the last shot. The beauty comes from the fact that it’s almost impossible to second-guess who is lying and who isn’t — as someone says, “Maniacs are only afraid of other maniacs.” With great performances all-round, a terrific score, and superb camerawork (the oft-abused slow-motion is used to stunning effect here), Big Bad Wolves will require multiple viewings to fully appreciate its secrets, and it’s a fairy tale you’d be highly advised to experience.