“Big Bad Wolves” is terrifying, funny, uncompromising, beautiful, ugly and altogether disturbing. While this dark, atmospheric gem borders on masterful at times, surprising in ways that I haven’t seen in years and craftily evoking a mix of contradictory emotions, I found myself initially a bit resentful of the filmmakers for luring us in with their cold, calculating style. To be sure, this Israeli horror flick is both riveting and harrowing, a flawed but wholly original experience that, at least for this critic, demands a second viewing. That’s not to say it’s easy to watch. The film, which was picked up by Magnet Releasing earlier this year and won’t get an official release until January 17th, 2014 (I was able to catch a special screening at the Spooky Movie Horror Film Festival), is possibly the most chill-inducing genre entry I’ve seen so far this year; it’s the lingering sense of dread that makes it such an effective, stomach-turning psychological thriller, a vision of brutality so sinister, so incomprehensible, that the anxiety sticks around long after the credits have rolled.
For police detective Miki (Lior Ashkenazi), there’s no question that Dror (Rotem Keinan), a feeble schoolteacher, is responsible for a series of brutal child murders that have plagued the city. After a failed attempt at beating a confession out of him in a parking garage, which is caught on video and subsequently posted on YouTube, Miki is suspended from the force and Dror goes free. Given the unofficial go-ahead from his boss to pursue the suspect as a civilian, Miki goes after Dror, who, having a child of his own, insists he’s innocent. They have a run-in with the father (Tzahi Grad) of the latest victim, a curiously stoic man whose plan for revenge includes a rusty hacksaw, a blowtorch and the basement of a remote cabin, where the majority of the film takes place.
With the intention of finding out where Dror has buried his daughter’s head – part of an M.O. so gruesome that I’ll refrain from elaborating further – Grad’s character comes across as more of a sadistic mob boss than a grieving father. A bizarre, sometimes comical relationship develops between him and Ashkenazi’s cop, a washed-up, somewhat embittered divorcee, as they attempt to extract info from the schoolteacher. Razor-sharp writing and pitch black humor make the film both smart and emotionally confusing, as some obvious (and immensely important) questions seem to go unasked, and therefore, unanswered.
Culminating in a final act that would give the raw intensity of films like “Seven” and “Silence of the Lambs” a run for their money, “Big Bad Wolves” really needs to be seen to be believed, from cinematographer Giora Bejach’s haunting, gorgeously-lensed slow motion in the opening title sequence and Haim Frank Ilfman’s nerve-rattling score to the film’s jaw-dropping final revelation, and is so tightly wound and morbidly unforgiving that it’s nearly impossible to anticipate what’s going to happen next. Directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado (the duo behind 2010’s “Kalevet”) also wrote the film, and consistently challenge their audience with ideas that seem far too grim and fiendishly thought-provoking for Hollywood, taking their characters to the darkest of dark places and blurring the line between protagonist and antagonist, good and evil.