Monday, November 25, 2013

Film Review: Big Bad Wolves (Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado) 2013

Big Bad Wolves

The second film from Israeli writer-director duo Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado is a brutal, yet undeniably funny, horror-thriller and is looking to make an impact in cinemas this week (6th December 2013).  It has already caught the attention of Quentin Tarantino who described it as “the best film of the year”.

The film begins with a thuggish but ultimately inept detective beating a tied-up suspect in a multiple child murder case in the face repeatedly with a phone book.  The suspect is a weedy religious studies teacher who is accused of kidnapping girls and removing their heads.

Unbeknownst to anyone at the time, this brutal (yet ludicrous) interrogation is recorded by a terrified child with a mobile phone who puts the footage online for the country to see.  Due to this embarrassment, the police chief is forced to release the suspect and suspend the detective.  The detective, now working outside of the law, manages to serendipitously team up with a vengeful parent of one of the previous victims who has bought a house (with a basement) in the middle of nowhere so that he can take the law into his own hands…

It is easy to see why Tarantino likes this film, there are moments when graphic violence are punctuated with mundane comedy (a character gets a phone call from his mother as he is attempting to torture someone); there is a scene with pop music (Buddy Holly) juxtaposed with off-screen violence; there is a tense scene with characters eating soup in a kitchen whilst one of them hides a horrific scene in a basement (a la Inglorious Bastards)…  The film also uses a hugely Bernard-Herrmannesque score and contains a number of moments that made me think of Psycho.

Yet this is not to say that the film is an homage.  There are some moments in the film that are interesting because they are so unique to Israel / Jewish culture.

The film is overtly about fathers and fatherhood – characters are constantly referring to what it is like to be a father and how hard it is to protect and raise children, yet it is also an insight into Jewish families.  (Having been immersed for years in Jewish-American comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman, I don’t know whether the parents in this film are a playful mocking of a stereotype, or an honest attempt to represent a culture…)

This film also raises some interesting politics: Controversial settlements in Palestine are referenced; yet a pipe of peace is smoked between the Israeli anti-hero and an enigmatic Arab who roams the landscape on a horse (and saves the day with an iPhone).  The filmmakers could be using the old violence-in-the-basement metaphor to make a Freudian comment about Israeli state aggression, or they could be using the religious studies teacher / child killer narrative to make a different comment about the role of religion in harming the youth… or they could just be making a stylish horror b-movie that happens to be in Israel.  I imagine the answer to that question will depend on the eye of the beholder.

The film felt very televisual at the beginning, although it was an episode rather than a feature film, but as the plot began to ‘thicken’ then it builds into a tense and darkly comic expression of revenge and family.  I think Tarantino might be onto something…

The film is released through Metrodome on the 6th of December

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