Quentin Tarantino made waves late last year when he declared Big Bad Wolves the best film of 2013. It didn’t reach U.S. shores until early 2014 — at which point the film had largely been forgotten — but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a look when it hits home video in short order.
This Israeli thriller takes a solid half hour to get its plot in motion, at which point it builds to a rumble, and then a roar. The story centers around Dror (Rotem Keinan), a nebbish teacher who’s accused of raping and beheading a young girl who was playing in the woods. Sketchy evidence ties him to the crime, so the cops, led by Micki (Lior Ashkenazi) try to beat a confession out of him — namely since the body was found headless, and everyone would like to complete the corpse for a proper Jewish funeral. When footage of the beatdown ends up on YouTube, Dror is set free, Micki is off the case, and old school (like, Biblical-style) vigilantism starts to kick in.
Soon, we meet Gidi (Tzahi Grad), the dead girl’s father. Cool and detached, Gidi stalks Dror until, one day, he finally kidnaps him and inters him in chains in the basement of a remotely located house he’s acquired just for this purpose. His tale intersects with Micki at this point, and two set upon a torture strategy to force a confession out of what appears to be a very weak-willed man.
Well, the tables get turned more than a few times in the next few days. While giving away any more would be a disservice, suffice it to say that the last act centers around a blowtorch, a poisoned cake, and the sudden appearance of Gidi’s father, who seems even more sadistic than his son.
We’ve seen this film before — as recently as in last year’s Prisoners — but Big Bad Wolves still manages to feel fresh. Again a film is asking us to ponder the nature of evil, how far we would go for justice, and who exactly are the “wolves” in a scenario like this. There’s no good answer to any of this, no moral high ground for any of our characters to occupy, just a question of whether Dror is really the monster everyone thinks he is, and who’ll come out of all of this alive.
Big Bad Wolves is filled with gruesome torture scenes — one of which is physically painful to watch — but the violence does provide a key service to the story. I mean, you can’t have a movie about big bad wolves without having a few people get eaten, amirite?