Big Bad Wolves

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/27/13 11:30:48

"Big great movie."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Even if Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado were just one filmmaking team out of many people making this sort of movie in Israel, "Big Bad Wolves" would be a pretty terrific movie, a step up from their already impressive "Rabies". But they're not; this kind of movie doesn't show up homegrown on Israeli screens much at all, and maybe that's why they seem like such a clear and unique voice, and their movies events not to miss.

The story itself doesn't seem like much new: A little girl goes missing during a game of hide-and-seek, only to be found horrifically mutilated. The police have soon pinned their hopes on a suspect - mild-mannered schoolteacher Dror (Rotem Keinan) - but when they are caught trying to beat a confession out of him, the case is assigned to by-the-book detective Rami (Menashe Noy) while instigator Mickey (Lior Ashkenzai) is reassigned to traffic. Well, technically; their boss Zvika (Dvir Benedek) has suggested he do everything possible off-the-books to solve the case. Unbeknownst to him, the victim's father Gidin'ka (Tzahi Grad) is also looking to get answers out of Dror.

The first parts of Big Bad Wolves crackle and move: The opening credits seem to tell a nifty, stylized story on their own before ending on the cliffhanger that gets the rest of the story going, and what comes after doesn't sell out the high expectations it creates. Keshales & Papushado create a set of pointed scenes that aren't rushed through individually but tell their portions of the story with no waste. Unimportant bits are skipped so that each major event leads directly to the next, but also sneakily fine-tuning how that second half is going to play.

That's when you get a few characters in the same room in a scenario that's more endurance test than battle of wits, albeit one of the most darkly funny you'll witness. Strange thing to say for what is effectively an extended torture scene, but there is a touch of the absurd in every event that pushes the next bit of brutality off even as it allows for the possibility of tables being turned. It's not quite the absolute edge-of-your-seat suspense that it might be played as, but things inch forward, and it gives the actors involved a chance to show what rests underneath the surface of generally law-abiding citizens.

The cast is top-notch, with several of Israel's most popular actors apparently jumping at the chance to play against type in a movie like this. Rotem Keinan is especially great as Dror, showing how every accusation chips away at him without a lot of easy wailing, while Tzahi Grad is a wholly different kind of force on screen - Gidi is imposing, powerful, and ruthless enough that it's easy enough to believe that he's being introduced for some other purpose altogether, but there is a twisted pain underneath. Doval'e Glickman is a late-movie surprise as his father; the Jewish father stereotypes aren't quite as well-played as those of the mother, but Glickman does wonderful things with them, especially when he turns out to have a few surprises of his own. Lior Ashkenzai does great things with the rule-breaking cop who finds himself in a quite different position.

How things all tie together doesn't rewrite the genre, but it's easy to admire the way Papushado & Keshales use the same details for both thematic strength and plot twists. They surprise with fake-outs and horrors without ever seeming to pull anything out of nowhere, and finish things up in what seems like the only honest way they can. The pacing is excellent, and the bits of black comedy yield big laughs without hurting the thriller aspects at all.

"Big Bad Wolves" may only be this team's second film, but few will doubt that they're directors to watch: They've made something that's got some weight but which is also hugely entertaining, and I can't wait to see what they're going to do next.

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