starring Tzahi Grad, Llor Ashkenazi, Rotem Keinan, Dov Glickman
written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
by Walter Chaw A winning, stylish mixture of black humour, perversion, and character study, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado's Big Bad Wolves presents a popular moral quandary in a way that would make Park Chan-wook proud. Indeed, it would fit comfortably in a conversation with that director's "Vengeance Trilogy" as a companion piece in theme, even execution, to Sympathy for Lady Vengeance that finds a father and a rogue police officer brutally torturing an unassuming schoolteacher because they both suspect he's responsible for the death of a little girl. With the question of guilt beside the point, the real thrust of the piece is the toll that some actions take on the soul, no matter why they're undertaken. Crucially, it's not a product of the United States or South Korea, two cultures married to a specific kind of morally relativistic nightmare that have produced films like this for years, but of an Israeli movie industry that marks this as only their second "horror" release. (The first, incidentally, was a product of this same writing-directing team: 2010's Kalavet.) For an Israeli thriller to tackle the issue of the zero sum game of rendition and torture without due process feels dangerous--particularly with the ancillary character of an Arab man on horseback who is wry, handsome, and utterly normal, nay, the only normal one in the entire film.
Detective Miki (Lior Ashkenazi, somewhere between Steve Carell and Ian McShane) is dismissed from a brutal child-murder case for getting caught on YouTube literally throwing the book at milquetoast Dror (Rotem Keinan). It's a moment of notoriety that causes Dror's students and colleagues to turn against him, and each finds himself out of a job. Meanwhile, Gidi, the former head of the Lebanese police and father of the latest victim, decides he'd like do a little interrogating of his own. With Miki an uneasy-at-times accomplice, the two summarily strap Dror into a chair in the basement of a remote farmhouse, arm themselves with rusty instruments, armour themselves in righteousness, and go to town.
Nothing special, really, in terms of plotting (frankly familiar in many instances, with certain points, like the baking of a drugged cake, telegraphed in the way only something this meticulously plotted can telegraph things), Big Bad Wolves nevertheless boasts flair, a tightness in its dialogue, and a mordant sense of humour, its moments of greatest tension relieved by regular calls from a prototypical Jewish mother. The arrival of Gidi's father (Menashe Noy) allows for more domestic situational comedy, while the interplay between Dror and Miki, alarmed for various reasons by Gidi's fervour, adds moments of moral complexity to the bloody shenanigans. Big Bad Wolves is beautifully crafted, from its virtuoso, wordless prologue to a midnight ride through a forest on a child's bike--which mixes just a hint of pathos with tension and well-choreographed slapstick--all the way up to a final twist that pulls the entire thing into focus without providing anything like a tidy resolution. It's as assured as any genre film in a year already packed to brimming with unusual, innovative, brilliant genre fare within and without the mainstream, doing nearly the impossible (and until recently almost the sole purvey of South Korean filmmakers) in maintaining a light tone while depicting a deeply-uncomfortable subject. And though it reminds thematically of Park Chan-wook's pictures, it ultimately has its closest analog in Bong Joon-ho's modern classic procedural Memories of Murder. If it doesn't transcend, in other words, it at least builds on the right shoulders. I can't wait for the next one.