VIFF 2013 Review: Big Bad Wolves

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DISCLAIMER: The 2013 Vancouver International Film Festival officially ended on Friday. Nevertheless I will continue to post reviews of films associated with it including repeat screenings shown within one week after the festival’s end.

Big Bad Wolves is one of those films at the VIFF that’s more movie than film. It’s Israel’s attempt at creating a thriller movie. How good is it?
The movie starts with a young girl going missing. The police first question Dror: a physically awkward religion teacher. He is accidentally released due to a police bungle. This upsets officer Miki and he decides to take things into his own hands. He hires men to beat up Dror into confessing but it doesn’t work. Unknown at the time is a teenager caught it on his camera phone. Within days the girl is found dead and beheaded. It is learned that the killer had the victim eat a cake full of sedatives before murdering her. Dror has become defamed at his teaching job and his ex-wife won’t even let him see his daughter. Meanwhile another girl is found killed and beheaded. She too was set up with the drugged-up cake. And word has come of the beating video appearing on YouTube. This leads Miki getting fired.
The firing doesn’t stop Miki from taking things into his own hands and getting to the bottom of this. He attempts to corner Dror and hopefully torture him into a confession. However Gidi, the father of the latest victim, also wants Dror to confess for his sake. Gidi and Miki first appear to form an alliance for getting Dror to confess only for things to turn ugly as Miki ends up attacked by Gidi too.
Gidi then takes Dror and Miki to the basement of his house. Miki is handcuffed to a pipe while Dror is strapped to a chair. Gidi attempts to be the one to get a confession out of Dror by torture. But no matter how hard he tries, Dror still maintains his innocence, even after Gidi rips off his toenails or disjoints his fingers. Gidi even has a cake full of sedatives ready. However just as he’s about to get Dror, interruptions occur like a phone call from his mother and a visit from his father Yoram. Things become surprising when Yoram joins with Gidi in the torture. Meanwhile Miki plans a getaway after one act from Yoram backfires and Dror gives an alleged burial location of the girls’ heads. Things have a twist of surprises that has the movie ending on a surprising note but a note that works with the story.
I don’t think the movie is trying to give a social message. I believe the movie is trying to play out a story while giving some comedic ironies at times. Like when the phone rings just as Gidi is about to torture Dror or the visit from his father or Yoram eating the sedative-loaded cake in front of Dror. It kind of gives the movie a bit of a dark humor like Fargo or even a Quentin Tarantino movie. It’s interesting that when you first see the movie, you’d think it would be a strictly serous drama but the humor added to the moment and to the surprises. The movie’s other great quality is it’s also full of surprises. There are a lot of unpredictable moments. Like who would have thought that Yoram the father would participate with Gidi in revenge? Or even Miki would receive the shocking news of his own? Also for those that saw the movie, did you really think it would end that way? I didn’t.
I’m not too familiar with the Israeli film scene or the entertainment business but I think this film is a positive move for them to create movies. As you know there’s a big difference between movies and films. Films are works of effort and creativity. Movies have ingredients to draw crowds. I’m sure anyone who likes suspense movies will find this to be a movie that will keep them intrigued in what happens next and what will happen in the end. There may be some that would think the basement torture scene went too long but some thought the intensity of that long scene was just right. I myself am appreciative of the story that was being drawn out. I may question the ending whether it should have ended that way but otherwise a very good story that had me thrilled and even laughing at times. I’m sure Hollywood will pay attention to something like this.
Surprisingly this is only the second work in both writing and directing for the duo of Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado. You’d figure with an effort as professional and polished as this, they would have been veteran writers and directors. I am very impressed. It was an excellent script and excellent directing work. However there are times I’ve questioned whether the basement scene should have been that long.
There were a lot of great performances but I think the best performance came from Rotem Keinan. His portrayal as the victim Dror was very dead-on in terms of emotions and physical acting. He will often win your sympathy and have you believe he is an innocent man. Tzahi Grad was also very good as Gidi especially in making his role alternate between the dramatic and the comedic. Lior Ashkenazi was also very good but I think his part of Miki could have been more. Doval’e Glickman however came across as too cartoonish. The editing was very professional as well as the addition of the score in the movie. So overall I’m very impressed with how well-done this Israeli movie is. Sometimes I think it looks like something Hollywood would send out.
Big Bad Wolves is a very good thriller movie that will keep the viewer at the edge of their seat. It’s also an excellent effort from the Israeli film industry in movie making. I can see this as a crowd winner.
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