Tuesday, January 14, 2014

BIG BAD WOLVES (2013) movie review

Big Bad Wolves (2013) d. Aharon Keshales / Navot Papushado (Israel)

After their stellar slasher debut, Kalevet (aka Rabies), hit DVD in 2012 following its extensive and wildly successful festival run, horror fans have been eagerly awaiting a follow-up from Israeli writing/directing team Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. With this disturbing yet darkly funny kidnapping tale, they’re not bound to disappoint many, although their tendency toward third-act cuteness and contrivances undercuts what could have been a masterpiece of grueling tension and terror.

Someone is abducting, raping, and murdering young girls and the stymied local police are growing desperate in the face of public outcry. The lead detective on the case, Micki (Lior Ashkenazi), is convinced that shy and reserved schoolteacher Dror (Rotem Keinan) is the culprit, but when a leaked video of his brutal interrogation techniques go viral, he is forced off the case and Dror goes free. However, Gidi, the father of the latest victim (Tzahi Grad), now has a face upon which to focus his rage and pain, while Micki continues his own unauthorized investigation. The winding paths of these three men – all fathers to young daughters – lead to Gidi’s secluded cottage basement, where duct tape, sharp implements, and a keen sense of revenge deliver their own brand of justice, right or wrong.

Keshales and Papushado aren’t shy about acknowledging their inspirations, and there’s definitely more than a dash of Quentin Tarantino lurking around the corners. (Ironically, QT declared BBW “The Best Film of 2013” after seeing it.) After nearly a full hour of grim purpose and suspenseful pursuit, things take a turn toward black comedy once Dror is bound to a moldy couch – as the knives literally come out, so does the snappy banter, deflating the carefully cultivated atmosphere.

Some might argue that this shift was necessary, but the scene of Gidi baking a cake while Buddy Holly’s “Every Day” plays bouncily on the soundtrack is far too blatant in its “look how clever we’re being,” and the film never quite recovers its footing. (Said cake-baking also includes a forehead-smackingly artificial plot element, one that both conflicts with and compromises what has gone before. Surely, they could have come up with something else; hell, I would have been happier with a convenient case of narcolepsy.) The ambiguous final moment is also a bit of a puzzler, showing us Keinan’s daughter either at peace or in great danger, with no real indicator as to which is the truth and no justifiable reason for the confusing coda.

But while not a perfect beast, it’s still pretty damn great. Giora Bejach’s cinematography is gorgeous and engrossing, the utterly mesmerizing slow-mo bucolic opening contrasting with the frenetic foot chases that follow. The isolated woods, used to such excellent effect in Kalevet, are back, the distance from outside interference (or aid, depending on one’s point of view) both striking and chilling. Haim Frank Ilfman creates a haunting musical tapestry, unveiling the melodic strings and stings in equal measure.

The three lead performances are all excellent, with Ashkenazi providing the middle moral ground between Grad’s stolid menace and Keinan’s quaking protestations of innocence. It’s a terrifying modern fairy tale, one that shows considerable growth and polish from Keshales and Papushado, who continue to lead the rising Hebrew Horror wave.

Big Bad Wolves is slated for a limited theatrical release (including Chicago’s Music Box Theatre) this Friday, January 17, from Magnolia/Magnet. Check their website for dates and locations.

--Aaron Christensen, HorrorHound Magazine

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