Quentin Tarantino last year lauded Big Bad Wolves (2013), the second feature from Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (following on from their well-received 2010 debut, Rabies), as his favourite film of 2013 and it’s easy to see why he embraced it so resoundingly. The directing duo have been schooled in the Hitchcockian, early-De Palma school of sustained tension, and those scenes in the film are punctuated by moments of unsettling, gleefully vicious gore, served with a side of jet black humour. But for all the well- orchestrated, transgressive sparks, there’s an inescapable hollowness to Big Bad Wolves that didn’t perpetrate their outstanding inaugural offering.
When teacher Dror (Rotem Keinan), estranged from his wife and child, is suspected of murdering a young girl, members of the local police force take it upon themselves to kidnap him and attempt to extract a confession through unethical and illegal means. The whole incident is filmed on a smart phone and uploaded online, causing the police superior to make an example of Micki (Lior Ashkenazi), one the perpetrators. Busted him down the ranks, Micki is eager to prove Dror is the guilty one and sets out to once again apprehend the teacher, only to be intercepted by the dead girl’s father Gidi (Tzahi Grad). He stuns both men and takes then to the soundproof cellar of a house he’s rented. When Gidi uncovers Micki’s intentions, the two corroborate on the vengeful father’s methodical torture of his bound prisoner.
A couple of glaring plot contrivances aside, Keshales and Papushado have some real fun with the conventions of the genre, frequently undercutting the audience’s expectations, whilst still delivering the requisite jolts. The directors also manage to mine humour out of the situation, cleverly timing these moments as a cathartic release for the viewer. However, despite this strong grasp of craft, Big Bad Wolves doesn’t ultimately amount to much. The fairytale motifs, tantalisingly toyed with during the opening credits, are only hinted at sporadically, whilst a throwaway moment of commentary on Arab-Israeli tensions doesn’t go anywhere. The directors are clearly a talented team, but Big Bad Wolves’ script shortcomings make for an empty (if well-packaged) exercise in fervent justice and retribution.
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