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A driven cop and revenge-seeking father team up to deliver vigilante justice to an alleged child-killer in Big Bad Wolves, Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s grippingly suspenseful film, showcased at the Tribeca Film Festival. Featuring mind-bending plot twists and generous doses of mordant humor, this fiendishly clever Israeli thriller succeeds brilliantly on its own terms while instantly qualifying for a Hollywood remake.
After a little girl goes missing in the woods and is later found dead with her head missing and her underwear pulled down to her ankles, renegade cop Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) enlists two thugs to beat up his principal suspect for a series of related killings, seemingly mild-mannered schoolteacher Dror (Rotem Keinan). The violent mayhem is captured by an interloper’s cellphone camera, with the video going viral on the internet. Officially suspended but subtly encouraged to keep up with the case by his commander, Miki continues to harass and stalk Dror, even going so far as to Taser the hapless suspect’s small dog. But his activities are suddenly interrupted by the murder victim’s middle-aged father Gidi (Tzahi Grad), who overcomes both men and brings them to the basement of the remote new house he’s purchased just for the occasion.
Desperately wanting to know the location of his daughter’s severed head, Gidi brutally tortures Dror with Miki’s tacit approval. But when things threaten to get out of hand and Miki begins having second thoughts, he finds himself bound and gagged as well. The tense situation becomes even more complicated with the unexpected arrival of Gidi’s elderly father (Dov Glickman), who comes bearing chicken soup only to wind up becoming involved in the nefarious goings-on.
The filmmakers slowly but surely ratchet up the tension in brilliantly subtle fashion, delivering both a haunting meditation on the morality and efficacy of torture—the suspect’s guilt is not established, which only increases the moral ambiguity—and enough violent shocks to please genre fans. The plot’s intricate twists and turns are consistently surprising, as are the wonderfully droll touches of humor sprinkled into the proceedings.
Examples of the latter include the viciously revengeful Gidi reduced to near whimpers during a phone call from his guilt-trip delivering Jewish mother; his seemingly gentle father suddenly displaying unexpected personality facets; and the separate encounters that Gidi and Miki have with a man on horseback which provide a subtle commentary on the region’s simmering Arab-Jewish tensions.
Featuring superb performances by the principal actors, Big Bad Wolves is mesmerizing from start to finish, including a haunting final image that you’ll find impossible to forget.
(Tribeca Film Festival)
Production: United Channels Movies, United King Films
Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Tzahi Grad, Rotem Keinan, Dov Glickman, Menashe Noy, Dvir Benedek
Directors/screenwriters: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Producers: Chilik Michaeli, Avraham Pirchi, Tami Leon, Moshe Edery, Leon Edery
Director of photography: Giora Bejach
Editor: Asaf Korman
Production designer: Arad Shawat
Costume designer: Michal Dor
Composer: Frank Hayim Ilfman
Not rated, 110 min.