It’s rare to find a truly disturbing film that’s also incredibly funny. Not in the way that the Justin Bieber documentary was disturbing either, but in the “I shouldn’t be enjoying this” kinda way. That’s one of the amazing things about Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Paushado’s (Rabies) new thriller, Big Bad Wolves. They’re able to deftly balance some really upsetting material with laugh out loud moments, without ever fumbling the moral implications in the process. Man, when was the last time you saw a torture sequence interrupted by an overbearing Jewish mother?
The police are desperate to find the man who is abducting young girls, raping them, then leaving their headless bodies out in the woods. Tired of getting nowhere with the case, detective Micki (Lior Ashkenazi) turns to brutal interrogation techniques with their only suspect, Dror (Rotem Keinan) – a guy who couldn’t look more like a creepy pedophile if he tried. Unlucky for Micki, his questioning efforts are caught on tape and uploaded to YouTube, which leads to him being suspended from the force.
But like every suspended cop worth a damn, Micki goes rogue. He starts following Dror’s every move, waiting for the perfect opportunity to snag him and complete his “interrogation.” He’s not subtle about it either. Micki hangs out near Dror’s house, makes fun of his dog, cracks jokes, shit like that. But Micki’s beaten to the punch by, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), the father of one of murdered girls. Together Micki and Gidi question Dror, and the more the suspect insists he doesn’t know where the girls’ heads are buried*, the more punishment they inflict.
The big question, of course, is what if Dror really isn’t the killer? What if he can’t lead them to the buried heads? The audience is kept in the dark over what evidence there actually is against him, so do we ally ourselves with Dror, or his torturers? The film does a skillful job at keeping the audience on their toes over who to root for.
There’s a lot of torture (aka, “interrogation”) in the film and each scene is a real ass-clencher. There are only about a handful of gruesome moments though. I’m a huge wimp when it comes to gore and only had to look away once during this film. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such beautifully shot moments of agony either. Cinematographer Giora Bejach makes every shot mesmerizing – from the ominous slow-motion prologue to the haunting final shot, Big Bad Wolves is gorgeous. Frank Ilfman’s score transitions from sweepingly cinematic to more playful during intense scenes. Believe me, guys, the visuals and music add so much depth to this film.
As the title suggests, fairy tale elements lurk beneath the surface. And I mean like some Brothers Grimm shit, not Disney. In one of the most chilling moments in the film, a trail of candy in the woods leads to the physical manifestation of innocence lost. Cakes and candy are crucial, but not in a good way. Then there’s the mysterious Arab on horseback who seems to be the most level-headed out of all the wolves. All these elements create a unique, dangerous atmosphere where evil creeps just around the corner, waiting to touch you in all the wrong places.
I watched this movie twice in one day to be sure I hadn’t come down with a case of “first viewing giddiness.” Even the second time around, Big Bad Wolves proved to be a haunting, hilarious masterpiece that skillfully manages its distinctive tone throughout. Believe the hype and keep Aharon Keshales and Navot Paushado on your radar forever.
Big Bad Wolves is now in theaters, on iTunes, and On Demand.
* According to Jewish law, bodies have to be whole before being buried. So cutting the girls’ heads off isn’t just a horrific act, it’s an insult to them after death.