×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Big Bad Wolves’

Despite its undeniable chops, this comic thriller from directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado never becomes more than a stylishly gruesome exercise.

With:

Lior Ashkenazi, Rotem Keinan, Tzahi Grad, Dov Glickman, Menashe Noy, Dvir Benedek, Kais Nashef, Nati Kluger, Ami Weinberg, Guy Adler, Arthur Perry, Gur Bentwich.

The recent “Prisoners” was a meditation of sorts on the morality of torture, and in that respect it has an unexpected companion piece in the slickly arresting Israeli thriller “Big Bad Wolves.” Writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado bring an impressive polish to this grisly tale of one man’s hunt for the sicko who raped and murdered his daughter, but the filmmakers’ undeniable chops and bizarre tonal shifts fail to transform the material into anything more than a stylishly gruesome exercise. The personal endorsement of Quentin Tarantino has already ensured this well-traveled festival sensation a measure of attention in advance of its upcoming Jan. 17 release through Magnolia genre label Magnet, likely to translate into decent returns from audiences intrigued by the prospect of a commercial genre movie from the region.

The opening credits play over a game of hide-and-seek, shot in ominous slo-mo and set to a lush, foreboding score by Moshe Edery. A tone of dread thus established, a young girl’s decapitated body is soon found in the woods, the latest victim in a string of grisly child murders. The detective in charge of the investigation, Miki (Lior Ashkenazi), suspects the culprit is Dror (Rotem Keinan), a shy, nebbishy schoolteacher who at once does and doesn’t fit the average perception of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When Miki pays two cronies to beat up Dror in order to force a confession, the whole nasty episode is secretly caught on video and quickly goes viral.

It’s clear enough from this development, which ends up losing Miki his job, that Keshales and Papushado mean to inject a note of social commentary into these grim proceedings. It becomes even clearer when Gidi (Tzahi Grad), a large, imposing man and the father of the most recent victim, kidnaps Miki and Dror, ties them up, and stashes them in a remote, sound-proofed hideaway. Like Miki, Gidi means to extract a confession from Dror, only he’s willing to go much, much farther to get it, and he proceeds to inflict on Dror the very acts of mutilation that the killer forced upon his own victims, with Miki, no stranger to the ways of vigilante justice, as a half-hearted sort of accomplice.

It’s here that “Big Bad Wolves” turns squirm-inducingly violent (viewers who get off on extracted toenails and hammered body parts will receive more than their fill), reveling in a sadistic spectacle that is also served up as a rather dubious moral illustration — a warning of the evil that good men can do in the name of retribution and justice. But as if to neutralize the tale’s excruciating intensity and throw the viewer further off-balance, the filmmakers also play this hideous extended setpiece for laughs, with Gidi regularly interrupted mid-torture — first by a series of concerned phone calls, then by a visit from his father (Dov Glickman), who gets his own twisted role to play in the proceedings.

Dror’s horrified denials, screams and pleas for mercy aside (Keinan expertly maintains the viewer’s sympathy without completely dampening the possibility that Dror may be guilty), all this is performed with a bone-dry detachment that frustrates any real emotional investment in the scenario. That’s particularly true with regard to Grad’s stone-faced performance as Gidi, a ruthless punisher who doesn’t entirely convince as a grief-stricken father. (Sean Penn in “Mystic River” he isn’t, despite an equivalent corpse-discovery scene.) With its philosophical pretensions and distancing humor, “Big Bad Wolves” almost begs to be read as a metaphor, perhaps for Israel’s own ugly history of torture, even if the ramifications are scarcely applicable to any one state. The film’s lone Arab character, appearing for a brief moment of levity late in the third act, seems intended to defuse any real political tension the story might arouse.

Keshales and Papushado have upped their technical game since their 2010 slasher thriller “Rabies.” The filmmaking, from Chilik Michaeli’s precise widescreen framing to Tami Leon’s vivid production design, is rarely less than impeccable, even if the film itself winds up feeling fairly bloodless, mocking its own seriousness and then trying, rather too late, to reinstate it. It’s easy enough to understand why Tarantino, a master at blending genre thrills and provocative ideas, might have felt inclined to name “Big Bad Wolves” the year’s best film, a ridiculous claim that sells his own work rather short; this self-admiring provocation is no match for that director’s grisly parables of comeuppance.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Big Bad Wolves'

Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival (Altered States), Oct. 6, 2013. (Also in Tribeca, Chicago film festivals; Fantastic Fest; AFI Fest.) Running time: 110 MIN.

Production:

(Israel) A Magnet Releasing (in U.S.) release presented with United Channels Movies and United King Films of a Limor Shmila production with the support of Elinor Gigi Adoni, Oni Elbar, Dani Shitrit, Roby Star, Doron Ofer, United Channels Movies, United King Films, the Rabinovich Film Fund.

Crew:

Directed, written by Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado. Camera (color, widescreen), Chilik Michaeli; editor, Avraham Pirchi; music, Moshe Edery; production designer, Tami Leon; costume designer, Giora Bejach; sound, Frank Hayim; sound designer, Leon Edery; line producer, Ronen Nagel; assistant director, Michal Dor; casting, Asaf Korman.

With:

Lior Ashkenazi, Rotem Keinan, Tzahi Grad, Dov Glickman, Menashe Noy, Dvir Benedek, Kais Nashef, Nati Kluger, Ami Weinberg, Guy Adler, Arthur Perry, Gur Bentwich.

More Film

  • Suro

    Lastor, ‘The Endless Trench’s’ Irusoin, Malmo Team for Mikel Gurrea’s ‘Suro’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    SAN SEBASTIAN – Barcelona-based Lastor Media and Malmo Pictures have teamed with San Sebastian’s Irusoin to produce “Suro” (The Cork), the feature debut of Mikel Gurrea and a product of San Sebastian’s Ikusmira Berriak program. The film stars Laia Costa, who broke through with Sebastian Schipper’s “Victoria” and also serves as executive producer, and Pol López [...]

  • Ane

    Madrid’s ECAM Incubator Develops Terrorism Drama 'Ane'

    SAN SEBASTIAN — For the second year in a row, the ECAM Madrid Film School has paired a number of up-and-coming filmmakers with various industry veterans for an Incubator program part of the school broader development arm called The Screen. For its initial edition in 2018, this Incubator selected five feature projects, putting the selected [...]

  • Roma Cinematography

    'Mission: Impossible - Fallout' and 'Roma' Win LMGI Awards for Motion Pictures

    Two major 2018 releases – actioner “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” and critics’ darling “Roma” – were honored for film location work by the Location Managers Guild International at a ceremony this evening at the Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica. The 6th Annual LMGI Awards also recognized “Chernobyl” and “Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan” [...]

  • Soho House

    Soho House Lands In Downtown Los Angeles

    Warner Music, Spotify and Lyft are poised to welcome a new neighbor to downtown Los Angeles’ Arts District with Soho Warehouse, the third California outpost of the Hollywood-loved members-only club — and the largest North American opening to date. Hot on the heels of the Soho House Hong Kong debut earlier this summer, the private [...]

  • Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider'

    Born to Be Live: 'Easy Rider' Gets a Concert/Screening Premiere at Radio City

    In a year full of major 50th anniversary commemorations — from Woodstock to the moon landing — why not one for “Easy Rider,” Dennis Hopper’s hippie-biker flick that was released on July 14, 1969? That was the idea when a rep for Peter Fonda, who starred in the film as the laid-back Captain America, reached out [...]

  • Costa Gavras

    Costa-Gavras and Cast on Nationality, Identity, and Cinema

    SAN SEBASTIAN  —  Though he’s been based in Paris since 1955 and came up through the French film industry, director Costa-Gavras has never forgotten his roots. “Those who are born Greek,” said the Peloponnese-born filmmaker at a Saturday press conference,  “stay Greek all their lives.” The once-and-always Greek was not just in San Sebastian to [...]

  • Lorene Scafaria, Jennifer Lopez. Lorene Scafaria,

    'Hustlers' Director Lorene Scafaria: 'We Wanted to Treat It Like a Sports Movie'

    The star-studded cast of “Hustlers” didn’t just become strippers in the empowering female-helmed blockbuster — they also became athletes. When speaking to “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast, at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month, “Hustlers” director Lorene Scafaria explained the extreme athleticism required of the movie’s leading actresses, who all had [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content