As the follow up to their previous feature, Rabies, which has the distinction of being the first Israeli horror film, directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado return with Big Bad Wolves, a fusion of revenge thriller and pitch black comedy that manages to be both absolutely hilarious and savagely sinister, a combination that produces one of the year’s most dynamic, entertaining and haunting cinematic experiences.

The film follows three men whose lives are dramatically brought together by an act of absolute horror: the abuse and savage murder of a young girl. The men in question are, a rule breaking police officer who turns vigilante to track down the girl’s killer; the father of the little girl, who seeks a bloody and sadistic revenge; and finally, the main suspect…a religious studies teacher who was arrested but released due to a scandalous blunder caused by the police officer. When these men come together, it will descend into a night of horror, pratfalls, revelations, unexpected guests and a very suspect cake.

Finding the right level between humour and horror is a delicate and often thankless art: Go too far with the comedy and it becomes a simple parody; go to far with the horror, and it can end up being too dark and tonally imbalanced. In Big Bad Wolves, the filmmakers push both crucial elements to the extreme, creating a film packed with roaring laughs that absolutely floor you, and acts of violence and cruelty that are often difficult to watch (in particular, the ‘fire test’). Indeed, the combination of darkness and light is reminiscent of the darkest Ealing comedies, especially The Ladykillers, with which the film shares a farcical relationship between events downstairs and upstairs.

The central performers all manage to capture and reinforce the film’s intense blend of humour and horror through their almost cartoonish characters. Lior Ackenazi is charming as Miki, the Dirty Harry wannabe whose heart is in the right place, but often acts before he thinks…a trait that makes him a great police officer, but will ultimately come back to haunt him; Tzahi Grad is terrifying as the damaged Gidi, a juxtaposition of warm fatherly features and a relentless sadistic will for revenge, a combination that Grad absolutely perfects, making for a powerhouse performance; and finally, Rotem Keinan’s performance as Dror, a character accused and abused for a crime that he absolutely denies. Keinen exudes an overwhelming sense of vulnerability and tragedy; you can’t help but emotionally connect with his plight. He is the heart of the film…which considering he is a suspected pedophile and serial killer is an amazing feat. It is a testament to the quality of the direction, acting and the writing that, right up until the final haunting images, the ultimate truths and horrors at the core of the film are always fiendishly ungraspable and mutating throughout, as these three characters evolve in a mesmerizing and violent fashion.

Visually, the film is a beautifully structured, composed with moments of creative flourish that are often used during moments of comedy (Gidi baking a cake) or gut wrenching horror (the reveal of the little girl’s body), intensifying the affective power of these crucial emotional extremes. However, the directors also pay homage to a couple of iconic directors in particularly In it’s use of soft slow motion in the film’s opening, the film channels the sweeping movement and creeping dread of De Palma’s distinctive tracking crane shots, and slow motion compositions, such as the opening of Dressed to Kill; while the sharp dialogue and claustrophobic character proximity during the early scenes of Dror’s imprisonment at the hands of Gidi and Miki, pay more than a gentle nod to Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Without a doubt, this film is the work of filmmakers who absolutely understand cinematic language and are well versed in the past masters and their influence.

Big Bad Wolves is an absolutely exquisite experience. It is both one of the funniest films of the year, and one of the darkest. The film moves effortlessly moving between these two emotional extremes to create a unique addition to the modern horror landscape. Big Bad Wolves has the energy, dark humour, bitter edge and fearlessness of early Coen Brothers, in particular Blood Simple and Fargo, with a sensibility and attitude rooted in their national culture that marks Kesheles and Papushado as creative talents in their own right, who are most definitely in the ascendency.

VERDICT: [rating=4]

About The Author

Matthew Hammond is a full time cinephile, specializing in cult, art house and 1980’s cinema. While film is his overwhelming passion, Matthew has been known to enjoy comic books, Sherlock Holmes stories and a good film related T-shirt. Feel free to email me with any questions or comments: mattpaul61@o2.co.uk