Big Bad Wolves will wow you with its unrelenting suspense and harrowing retribution. Some have described BBW as a horror film although I see it more of a twisted psychological thriller. Imagine if the makers of Prisoners and the original Saw had a cinema baby.
The film opens with a particularly lyrical slow motion sequence showing children, two girls and a boy, playing hide and go seek, all set to music with no dialogue. Without language you might think it was an American release. The young lad finds one lass in a drainage tube, but when the two then go looking for the other child all they find is her shoe and an empty cabinet.
Then, you see, things get ugly. This isn’t a film for children, or even about children. Big Bad Wolves is from filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado and they explore the dark side of revenge in this 2023 Israeli film that Quentin Tarantino calls the best of the year. I personally think BBV is a must see movie but would not hesitate to remind potential viewers that the imagery seems to both ridicule and simultaneously pay tribute to the sub genre known as torture porn. One thing is clear: Keshales and Papushado have a more mature sensibility than say Eli Roth. Pic is in Hebrew with a smattering of English and Arabic.
Once the film starts proper we’re introduced to three characters in the first reel: one guy a meek frail glasses-wearing teacher who is the prime suspect in the serial disappearance of young girls; a tough detective who has hired a couple of thugs to beat the suspect with phone books to get him to talk; and the grieving father of the latest victim. Unbeknownst to the detective his interrogation was filmed on a cell phone and has gone viral, getting him suspended and off the case. The suspect is released because of lack of evidence. Both the detective and the father separately plot to kidnap the suspect and beat the truth out of him.
What happens next is not only beyond what you expect but also a ratcheted series of connecting scenes that alternate with grizzly torture and unseen humor. As always with subversive filmmaking what you’re seeing is never as horrific as what you are conceiving. Big Bad Wolves has something to say about society and the rights of the individual and does so in a rather acerbic way. BBV also has something to say about vengeance, and something about how you can bake a cake with knockout drugs but you’d better not eat it too.
So what about the Holocaust? I always get arched eyebrows from friends of mine from Israel when I try to tell them about the latest film from that country because they’re always directly about the Holocaust culture, then or now. However that’s because those are the only films from that country that get domestic distribution, or at least that’s how it seems. Big Bad Wolves shows another side of the coin. Perhaps there is a Holocaust metaphor somewhere buried in the subtext, and perhaps all crimes of oppression never really offer a sense of closure.
Big Bad Wolves opens exclusively at the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park this weekend.
- Michael Bergeron