I would like to thank my dearest Rameau for directing me toward this one – you rock!
A trio of young children are playing hide and seek around what could be called a ruined motel or cabin in the woods. A boy counts down while two girls, one dressed in red and the other in blue, enter a derelict building. One stays, the other leaves; one dies; the other, well, who knows what’s happened to her? The sequence is shot in a kind of fuzzy slow motion that lends their actions a kind of suspended-in-water sensation; it gives off the feeling that this is going to be the last truly wonderful moment any of these children have.
An eerie trail of candy leads the police to the decapitated body of the missing girl, her underwear spotted with blood and hauntingly tugged down around her ankles. It turns out she’s the latest in a series of gruesome child murders, and the lead detective Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) thinks that they’ve got their man—a divorced, bespectacled weirdo named Dror (Rotem Keinan), working as a religion teacher at a private school. The only problem is that Miki’s interrogation techniques, which can be described as “unorthodox” at best (they involve e.g. tying the suspect to a chair and the forceful application of a phone book to his vital body parts), were caught on cell phone footage and leaked online by one frightened teenager. This causes Miki’s dismissal from the force, but not before his supervisor suggests, in no uncertain terms, that he’d better still keep an eye on Dror, unofficially of course, if he wants to return to his old job. A civilian can do much more than a police officer and everything will be fine – as long as he isn’t caught.
Miki starts keeping tabs on Dror, following him wherever he goes, hoping to find a shred of evidence that will allow him to exonerate himself and the whole police force. At the same we also start following another character who is doing almost the exact same thing—Gidi (Tzahi Grad), an middle-aged gentleman (but looking older), a bit overweight, with a cleanly bald head and big, seventies-era reading glasses. It turns out Gidi is the father of the latest victim. He wants his own revenge—and recruits Miki to help him.
Gidi and Miki go to a remote house with a well-insulated basement, purchased by Gidi purposefully, and attempt to extract a confession from Dror through pain. Still their tortures are being constantly interrupted – by chirruping phones, chiming oven-timers, and overprotective parents bearing soup. Will they finally force Dror to confess? Is such a confession worth anything? Is Dror really the pedophile-murderer everybody is looking for or just an innocent man, wrongly accused and imprisoned by a psychopath?
It’s been called an Israeli vigilante thriller and no, fortunately it is not dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not openly at least. It is dark like hell, believe me – graveside humour doesn’t come much blacker than this satirical gaze into the existential void. And yes, the void gazes back and finds everything mordantly funny, mostly because the line between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ is simply non-existent.
Ever the guru of stylized depravity, Quentin Tarantino, has endorsed the thriller as ‘the best film of the year’. Underpinning the nail-pulling madness is a macabre metaphor for a society built upon “a fear of terrorist activities, inherent intolerance, and a historical craving for vengeance”, with each act of retribution pushing everybody further towards the edge of madness. The result, which mixes winces with inappropriate laughter, is witheringly bleak, bitterly acerbic, and pointedly cruel although it happens just between three men, all of them allegedly from the same nation, with more similarities than differences between them. So simple and yet so original.
The title seems to promise a modern-day fairy tale, but after an ominously fanciful opening Big Bad Wolves becomes less Grimm than grimly comic. Descending upon this possible scapegoat are two obsessed parties: The slain girl’s father, mad with rage and sorrow, and a loose-cannon cop, who goes rogue after his first attempt to shake information out of the possible perp ends with a temporary suspension. Into the woods these three men go, converging in the soundproof basement of a country cabin. Here the ‘fun’ begins, as a potentially innocent person is subjected to the same agonies he’s said to have inflicted on his victims— a completely nasty business involving DIY tools, fingers and toenails, plus the creative misuse of a blowtorch.
This is where the heart of “Big Bad Wolves” lies—with these three men, in an unfurnished basement, in almost theatrically scarce setting. The moral implications are huge, obviously, as are the religious ones (since a Jewish body has to be complete for it to receive a traditionally proper burial). On the one hand you completely sympathize with the grieving father whose little girl was raped and murdered in such a heinous way and now he cannot even organize a proper burial ceremony for her. On the other hand when you watch that father turning into a psychopathic sadist who never hesitates to inflict pain on a man he thinks is guilty you ask yourself a lot of difficult questions ;some of them you hear asked by Dror, the wrongly (?) accused teacher, who tries everything to get a reprieve and let’s face it, who wouldn’t do the same in his position? The ending gives some answers but also leaves plenty of questions open.
If you like violence mixed with dark humour and Quentin Tarantino style of movie narration you will enjoy this one; however if you are queasy while watching torture and other atrocities you might want to steer clear of it. Despite a lot of comic relief some scenes were just a bit too much. I generally liked the movie and the idea of showing what ‘an eye for an eye’ might bring you but I have to admit I sometimes simply fast-forwarded in order not to watch torments straight from your average torture porn.