Directing duo Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado came bursting onto the genre scene with their debut feature and 2011 FrightFest favourite Rabies (2010). Ostensibly a teen slasher, it subverted conventions to craft a dexterous, satirical portrait of the social and civic landscape in their native Israel. They now return to UK cinemas with their follow-up, Big Bad Wolves (2013), which once again proves to be an allegorical beast in horror clothing. On this occasion it’s the torture porn sub-genre which provides the gruesome backdrop for a bracingly political picture about a national and generational hunger for retribution.
Police detective Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) is taken off the case of a series of grisly serial killings after being broadcast online attempting to beat a confession from potential suspect Dror (Rotem Keinan). Dror is an introverted Religious Studies teacher who soon finds himself suspended due to the suspicions surrounding him, with the murder victims all being school-age girls. Miki endeavours to continue his surveillance on his own time and awaits the opportunity to deliver out-of-hours vigilante justice. As soon as he has his man in custody, however, they both finds themselves locked in the basement of grieving father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad). The latest victim was the daughter of Gidi, who also intends to exact bloody vengeance on Dror.
Keshales and Papushado expertly manipulate the moving dynamics of the situation to create an atmosphere in which audience allegiance shifts from scene to scene. It’s impossible not to sympathise with the bereaved Gidi, but his horrific methods can only prompt dread when the conclusions drawn remain dubious. Dror initially seems guilty, but details are slowly drip-fed that call his guilt into question. Where this ambiguity causes a certain discomfort, the bloodshed itself may well provoke full on squeamishness as Gidi unveils an assortment of sharp and brutal objects for his savage task. The dank cellar in which the events of Big Bad Wolves unfold is in a house frequently noted as being surrounded by Arab villages, and it’s in this context that we come to see the true themes underlying the graphic violence.
The sins of the fathers, it would seem, are to be visited upon their children, and this notion is reinforced through several differing aspects of the narrative. The torture techniques employed come via Gidi’s military father, Yoram (Doval’e Glickman) and the murder method itself, whilst more potent, is the underlying thirst for aggressive reprisal. Combined with all of that are some ingenious moments of black humour that see everyday trivialities forever threatening to disrupt the cruelty and bring a levity to proceedings. It serves to make the assaults all the more wince-inducing, but also pointedly reminds us that these are normal men warped with rage and resentment. What’s more, Big Bad Wolves manages to climax in such a way that devastatingly reinforces its themes as well as chilling you to the bone.