Dror (Keinan), prime suspect in a series of child murders, is stalked by Miki (Ashkenazi), a homicide cop transferred to traffic after assaulting him. Gidi (Grad), father of a missing girl, abducts Dror, making Miki his accomplice. As Gidi tortures Dror, his pleas prompt the cop to question his belief in the man’s guilt...
Aharon Keshales and Avot Papushado’s debut feature Rabies — an escalation-of-disasters shaggy-dog tale with a Coenesque vibe — marked out the Israeli writer-directors as talents to watch. That promise is more than fulfilled in their second film, which manages a tricky balance of horror and black comedy. Its premise echoes other movies, including the recent Prisoners, but Big Bad Wolves takes a fresh approach. The War On Terror subtext has a deeper, darker meaning in an Israeli context, where the filmmakers suggest everyone has learned torture techniques during military service.
It opens with a fairy-tale nightmare as a child is snatched by an unseen killer while exploring an old house, then alternates edgy rogue-cop thrills (including one great suburban chase) with black comedy (bring-your-kid-to-work-day at the police station). Once it gets to the proverbial house in the woods, the focus narrows to a disturbing drama of torture — albeit with near-farcical interruptions. There’s a drugged cake, a parent who arrives with chicken soup and stays to wield a blowtorch, a passing Arab horseman, a little girl who needs picking up from ballet school and various familial guilts (all the men in the cellar are failures as fathers) to complicate things.
Like all versions of this story, there are only two possible outcomes. Big Bad Wolves holds off until the final shot to settle the issue. It will repay multiple viewings since, like Rabies, it’s fiendishly intricate and depends on wild changes of tone. It has a terrifically ominous score by Haim Frank Ilfman, occasionally broken by inappropriate ringtones (is there something off about an Israeli with a Ride Of The Valkyries ringtone?), and great performances all round.
Even if you think you’ve seen this story too often, Big Bad Wolves will surprise and enthral. A thriller which bites deep, it has a light touch which finds humanity even in the worst horrors.
Reviewed by Kim Newman