From the creators who brought us the first ever Israeli horror film - the unexpected and refreshing slasher flick Rabies - comes, yes, the second ever Israeli horror film. The darkly comic revenge thriller Big Bad Wolves is the duo’s next project and sees vigilante cop Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) stuck in the immoral mix between a gentle teacher (Rotem Keinan) accused of murdering a young girl and the dead girl’s vengeful father Gidi (Thazi Grad) who has kidnapped him to torture at his secluded cabin.
For the two pioneering directors it’s a bold move away from the slasher genre and a career-defining step towards the unhappy-ending vengeance story. Weaving three very different characters into an unlikely trio and unfamiliar situation, Big Bad Wolves is clearly in pursuit of, and given the scope to toy with, first-time reactions, amateur criminality and unforeseen circumstances. The moral efficacy of the torture induces a see-saw of decisions, while the ambiguousness of the teacher’s innocence upholds the strained tension until the bitter end.
But, repeating a trick from Rabies, it’s the timely comedic moments that are peppered almost too inappropriately between the disturbing themes of paedophilia and child rape that really hones in on its intricacy and exhibits its diverse capabilities. It’s a risky way to play and a hard balance to strike to avoid making light of the dreadful act, but Keshales and Papushado hit gold in distracting from the underlying raw tension with neat one-liners and gawky situations too opportune to refuse a chuckle.
Perhaps one of the most memorable is when Gidi’s elderly father stumbles upon his mess in the basement after popping round for soup. Thanks to a full house of superb and complementary performances and smart script writing, a serial of hoots follow as one unplanned misfortune and ‘food’ mistake leads to the next.
Though often conventionally characteristic of a revenge movie, it’s by no means a contender for shocking brutality or extreme torture porn, and it doesn’t intend to be. Instead, the interest in each of the character’s methods and reactions takes precedence over the finger and toe chopping, providing much more of a slow-burn thriller intermittently vamped up with bursts of shocking revelation and emotional outpour. The violence is a reminder of the seriousness of the accusations, the comedy a niggling cue that it’s okay to have a little fun. Together they act to fine tune a tangible yet truly horrifying and mesmerising atmosphere that keeps the shocks and surprises rife.
VERDICT: A bold, gutsy and sophisticated effort from Keshales and Papushado that will undoubtedly further help their deserved cause: to keep that very bright spotlight on Israeli horror.
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