Friday 21 February 2014

Review: Big Bad Wolves

Year: 2013 (U.K Release 2014)
Director: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Screenplay: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Starring: Lior Ashkenazi, Tzahi Grad, Doval'e Glickman, Rotem Keinan

Synopsis is here

If you give it a moments thought, then it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Quentin Tarantino considered Big Bad Wolves one of 2013’s best movies. The words violent revenge film has become almost synonymous with the directors later works. While the description of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s tense thriller can happily lend itself to that particular sub-genre, Big Bad Wolves like the Israeli duo’s first feature Rabies is far more interested in stretching the limits, shifting the tones and skewing the view of what we westerners are comfortably used to.

The catalyst of the narrative (the disappearance and murder of a schoolgirl) plays on the primal fears that haunt many adults, yet Big Bad Wolves approaches the subject with a caustic wit that may stun an unaware viewer. This seems to be a trademark of the writing/directing duo; who were only too happy to punctuate Rabies with similar coroner like humour. Like its predecessor, Big Bad Wolves is also willing to mine sympathy from uncomfortable areas, creating an environment of uncertainty that leaves the viewer unbalanced. More than once, we’re so sure of the intentions of characters, only for things to flip on their head and make us double take what we saw and how we felt before. Such oddball shifts not only remind us of the constant tonal shifting of Korean cinema, but also give the film a strong layer of texture. While violent, the film is not as explicit it may suggest. But the horror lies in the uncertainly of what appears to be such a cut and dry case. The fear comes from the idea that we may be siding with the wrong people for terrible reasons.

What interests me about Kashales and Papushado’s filmmaking is how willing they to allow their characters to bring, not only their own baggage, but weighty subjects of the Israeli culture to the table. Rabies flirted with bringing personal relationships, gender politics and religious elements, intelligently to the forefront. Big Bad Wolves, the trend, asking one simple question: Where are the women? This is not only a question in the literal sense, a little girl has been taken away (the wordless slow motion opening is sets the tone superbly), but the film queries the film in a more obscure way as we see all three of the main characters conduct all their relationships with women through strained phone calls. These men are amusingly always too occupied with asserting their masculinity and doing other (vicious) things that they let their relationships fracture. It’s important to note just how bad things get for each character as they take less notice from those they love.

While not as generous with the bloodletting as the likes of “Torture Porn” exploitation fare such as Hostel, Wolf Creek, et all, Big Bad Wolves,  brings the aggression and tensions that stem from the country’s history. The film also; unlike the modern films that have before it, smartly questions the nature of torture in a way that’s upfront and witty while maintaining a troubling brutality. While The film’s climax may not completely satisfy, Big Bad Wolves, provides the type of energetic ambition that horror viewers need to see more of.