BIG BAD WOLVES tells the story of a religious studies teacher, Dror, who may or may not be a murderous pedophile preying on young girls on the Israeli streets. A new girl has been kidnapped and he is presumed guilty by a persistent detective whose renegade actions put him in a spot of trouble and set the suspect free. When the girl’s body is found maimed and headless, the grieving father, Gidi, hatches a plan to kidnap and torture the suspect into revealing where the head of his deceased daughter is. When the detective’s own plan weaves him into that of Gidi’s, the two become accomplices in a twisted game of lies and deceit.
WOLVES directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s previous offering, RABIES, was a surprise hit back in 2010 for good reason. These two films offer a stirring mixture of multiple genres from gritty crime thriller, to dark comedy, to socio-political satire. Their understanding of tone somehow gives way to a unique genre of their own, one which would be difficult to replicate. At some of the most brutal points in BIG BAD WOLVES, I found myself laughing. For example, there is a montage that occurs right in the middle of the most cringe-worthy torture scenes that features Gidi baking a sedative-laced cake to the tune of “Everyday” by Buddy Holly. He’s smiling and cheerful as if he doesn’t have a care in the world. As soon as the cake is done, we’re thrown right back into the thick of things and the torture resumes. This is an example of the tone that sets the entire film, and it works marvelously.
It’s also worth mentioning that the script is written in such a way that during most of the film, you’re never really quite sure if Dror is the actual killer. As a result, you can’t help but wonder if this brutal torture is all for nothing. Gidi, the father, in turn appears an obvious villain in his violent quest to find the truth. The archetypes that normally fit these characters in a typical crime thriller are essentially turned upside down, and the lines between who is good and bad become blurred. This is also a credit to the three actors who carry this film, as their performances are some of the most ferocious and revelatory of any I’ve seen in recent memory. Tzahi Grad, who portrays Gidi, deserves a special credit. On a level of pure performance, his is certainly Oscar-worthy.
WOLVES features a brilliant score from Hiam Ilfman that turns even the most innocuous scene into a frightening ordeal. It keeps your pulse going as the mystery unfolds and truths are revealed. There’s no doubt that this is the best score I have heard in a film this year, and again worthy of whatever praise or awards it is given.
It’s hard to sum up a movie like BIG BAD WOLVES as it is a film to truly be experienced. It throws out conventional wisdom in favor of something more sinister. It will manipulate your conscience and stay with you for days. Keshales and Papushado have delivered a true masterpiece and riveting crime thriller that will keep you guessing until its harrowing conclusion, and it is hands down the best film I’ve seen this year.