Director: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Cast: Rotem Keinan, Lior Ashkenazi, Tzahi Grad, Doval’e Glickman
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In what scenario is torture ok? It isn’t. That’s it. It’s an easy question to answer. But Big Bad Wolves asks more difficult questions. What if the victim is a pedophile? What if you think they’ve captured your daughter? What if it’s the only way you’ll find out where she is? That’s the situation obsessed cop Miki (Ashkenazi) finds himself in – and one we’re forced to watch for 110 minutes. It’s not very pleasant for all concerned.
Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado ease you into the chair by starting with the horrific murder of a young girl in a forest – a gruesome discovery that sets Miki off on a mission to harass Dror (Keinan) until he confesses. Following him, parking outside of his house, beating him with a phone book; Miki’s conviction isn’t just extreme, it’s extremely dubious. But the directors almost make him seem restrained when they introduce Gidi (Grad).
The father of a missing daughter, Tazhi Grad’s desperate dad plans his response methodically, buying a house in the middle of the woods with a soundproof basement. Then he recruits Miki to join him in the slow, painful torment of the bespectacled teacher.
Throughout the ordeal, Dror proclaims his innocence with a blank look of shock – one that Grad ignores with relish. That’s where Keshales and Papushado start to pull their strings. Injecting dark humour into the mix, they turn the brutal interrogation into a comedy. Drugged cakes, witty banter and inconvenient phone calls from mothers border on farce – and then Doval’e Glickman turns up as Gidi’s father, bringing everybody chicken soup.
The directors juggle the awkward mismatch of tone just enough to last the lengthy runtime, dialling up the physical horror with graphic handheld shots – before undercutting it with laughs. The three main leads are all excellent at moving between manic, morbid and downright immoral. Underneath it all, though, runs that same troubling dilemma. Nods to training in the Israeli army and tension between the Jewish Gidi and his Arab neighbours suggest a political subtext to the debate too – one that adds a spiky satirical edge to an already uncomfortable watch.
That uneven mood leaves you squirming in your seat, which is exactly what the filmmakers want; this is the most unabashed exercise in audience manipulation since Haneke’s Funny Games. And it works. Combined with Haim Frank Ilfman’s ominous, loud music, Big Bad Wolves blows and blows until your nerves fall down.
Can torture ever be justified? For Keshales and Papushado, the film itself is an act of unsettling questioning. Just as you make up your mind on the thorny issue, they deliver a blow that leaves you rethinking everything. That a film can even make you consider the alternative is chilling. The fact that it’s gripping and funny too is scarily impressive.
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