Big Bad WolvesI have yet to catch the previous work of Israeli filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushalos titled Rabies (Kalevet), but a tad bit of research has shown me that it’s apparently a fantastic film and those two gents have made a name for themselves with it, as well as for contributing to the upcoming ABCs of Death 2.  With their latest film, they’ve definitely cemented those names as ones to watch.  Big Bad Wolves is a gripping, intense thriller filled with some nice gallows humor, Coen-esque situations and more than a couple of twists, turns and surprises. And for Tarantino himself, it’s the #1 film for 2013.

Wolves centers on the ongoing investigation into the murders of several young girls in a town in Israel.  The murders were especially brutal and heinous, involving torturing the victims, mutilations done to the bodies and the young girls were all sexually assaulted.  The renegade main detective on the case, Miki (Rabies’ Lior Ashkenazi) takes matters into his own hands when he hires a couple of thugs to torture the main suspect, Dror (Rotem Keinan) about the whereabouts of the latest missing girl.  Dror is a mousy religious studies teacher who professes his innocence throughout the interrogation, in which Miki also gets physical with a phone book.  Despite Dror’s appearance, Miki is absolutely certain that he’s guilty, although that is left up in the air for the audience. When Miki gets the call from his boss, Tsvika (Dvir Benedek), telling him to cut Dror loose, Miki grudgingly obeys.  What he doesn’t know, however, is that the interrogation session was caught on a passerby’s cellphone and uploaded.

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Not long after, the girl’s body is found in a wooded area, staged in a seated position with her panties pulled down.  Her overwrought father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), who is a friend of the police chief’s, shows up but is kept back from the scene.  Later, as a result of Tsvika finding the uploaded video, Miki is suspended.  But he’s still “encouraged” by Tsvika to continue his unofficial pursuit of the case. What follows is an odd bit of timing as both Miki and Gidi are stalking Dror.  Miki gets to him first, threatening him with a gun to confess to the murders and give up a key bit of info about them (Spoiler Alert: If you can, avoid learning what that info is until you see the movie.  Some reviews spoil this and although it’s not a major spoiler, it’s worth not knowing.).  But Gidi intervenes and captures both of them, taking them to an isolated property he’s just bought, seeking to torture Dror until he reveals that key bit of info.  As their goals concerning Dror coincide, Gidi and Miki come to an agreement to get the info together by what ever means necessary, although Gidi is definitely willing to go further than Miki to get answers.

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What follows is a dance of squirm-inducing torture, some dark-humored banter between the three and the inconvenient arrival of Gidi’s father (Dov Glickman), who is scolding his son for making his mother worry about him after having separated from his wife and moving out to the middle of nowhere.  As things progress, goals diverge and characters surprise with what they’re willing to do to fulfill them.  The tension escalates steadily and there’s a not-so-subtle debate presented about the efficacy of torture as Dror fiercely maintains his innocence.  There’s also a small side bit of commentary on Jewish / Arab relations via a couple of encounters between the main characters and a local Arab man on horseback (Kais Nashif).

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Performances all around are superb, especially Tzahi Grad’s dry humor and conviction in the justification of his actions, as well as his having to deal with the humorous family problems presented by his parents, his mother on the phone and his father in person. Rotem Keinan is also great as Dror, keeping you guessing about his guilt or innocence throughout the run of the film.  Gidi and Miki have you convinced of his guilt, and he frequently has you convinced of the opposite, often sympathetic as he endures some torture that at times can bring on the queasies.  There are also a couple of key twists to completely shake things up.  Keshales and Papushalos have crafted a complicated and gritty, yet unexpectedly and weirdly charming – if you can believe it – drama. Morbid humor mixes with some juicy violence and uncertainty in the truth to make for a melange of appeals. This is like the chocolate-covered bacon of thrillers.

Big Bad Wolves is from Magnolia Pictures and Magnet Releasing and opens OnDemand and in theatres on January 17.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars