The thriller and comedy genres used to be seen as very different sides of cinema, but that has changed drastically over time. Now, they have found a meeting ground in order to live in the same project. However, it can be incredibly difficult for a filmmaker to create something that will have audiences laughing, as well as sitting at the edge of their seats. Tension and humor are quite different, making it tough to find the perfect balance. However, when a filmmaker successfully accomplishes this feat, it's a truly magical experience that will not only have you squeezing the armrest, but also laughing. Writer/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado are releasing a certain breed of this type of film with Big Bad Wolves. It can best be described as a thriller with dark comedy. There's a lot of disturbing material that any other feature would represent it in a serious tone, but Keshales and Papushado want to leave you laughing and engaged, yet tense and disturbed all at the same time. Talk about a tough goal to accomplish.
After several young girls are brutally murdered, three men are put on a collision course. Gidi (Tzahi Grad) is the father of the latest victim. The killer still hasn't been caught, so he has decided to take matters into his own hands, as he begins to stalk the prime suspect. Micki (Lior Ashkenazi) is a crooked police detective operating outside the boundaries of the law. He's convinced that the suspect is this man is the one who killed the young girls, as he gets ready to make his move. Dror (Rotem Keinan) is the main suspect in the killings. As a religious studies teacher, he's soon suspended from his position due to the controversy of the police questioning him. Fate places all three men into the basement of a house in the middle of nowhere. This leads to the pursuit of vengeance and vindication. One question remains: is Dror truly guilty of the crimes that the two men are accusing him of?
Big Bad Wolves kicks off with a worthy introduction, as we watch a slow-motion scene of three children playing hide-and-seek around a cabin in the woods. We don't hear a single word or sound, but are instantly introduced to an intense score that leaves us wondering when the young girl will be taken. The first character that we follow is Micki, as we see how he's trying to find the individual who would commit such horrendous crimes. Before the motion picture moves to the basement, the filmmakers give us some time to follow each one of the three men. There's a small amount of character disposition that's provided at this time. Big Bad Wolves doesn't give us any more information than what we require at a single given time. Every aspect of the picture returns at one point or another as a payoff. While some of them are greater than others, it's clear that the film is meant to be a taut thriller that only takes you in directions that are involved in the plot or the message that the filmmakers are attempting to get across. The screenplay addresses the Arab-Jewish tensions, as it portrays Arabs in a way that will surprise anybody who knows how they are generally portrayed in features from Israel.
There is only one main tension that lasts throughout the entire running time of the film, but it's a powerful one. Big Bad Wolves continues to play with the audience throughout in a wonderful way. One moment, you'll be absolutely sure that Dror is guilty, and the next you'll be certain of his innocence. Expect to continue going back and forth. Writer/directors Keshales and Papushado have done a wonderful job with keeping their viewers thinking throughout. While this is the single primary tension, there are several smaller ones that continue to show up throughout the picture. Each time Gidi begins to torture Dror in order to get information, the score builds up and the close-ups promise a gruesome result, but many of these scenes are interrupted. While this works once or twice, the filmmakers utilize this tactic far too often. It doesn't take long for these scenes to feel repetitive and stale, as it just begs for groans from the audience. It isn't meant to be the next torture porn flick, but the same technique is overused. While a couple of their uses actually make sense, others don't seem to have as much of a purpose other than to pull our characters away from Dror.
The discussion of murdered young girls and the idea of watching a man getting tortured isn't very funny at all, so you might be asking what makes this film humorous. A lot of it comes through the dialogue, while the remainder is situational. It's all very well-crafted humor that had me laughing-out-loud a few times. Big Bad Wolves is very conscious of the fact that the direction this film takes shouldn't be taken seriously. This could have easily turned into a confused and uneven film, but Keshales and Papushado have ensured that everything would fall into place. Big Bad Wolves shines with its execution. The plot itself is nothing new, but the filmmakers have managed to twist the concept in various different ways and make it feel like something completely new. Even though the characters aren't necessarily very complex, I found myself captivated by the roles and their motivations.
Numerous situations may come across as being a bit forced, but I never had this issue with any of the performances. Lior Ashkenazi is incredibly believable in the role of Micki. He feels natural as the flawed cop and even resembles Clive Owen, so he's a winner in my book. Tzahi Grad successfully brings Gidi to life. When he's interrogating the prime suspect, he does a great job at bringing the maniac within himself out. He leaves everything on the screen, and it shows. Rotem Keinan fits the role of Dror quite well. This might be one of the first movies in which he has starred in, but he's fairly convincing as this character that will leave many audiences uncertain of whether Dror is innocent or guilty.
Even with some dark and disturbing material, writer/directors Keshales and Papushado have put together a beautiful looking film. The cinematography is strong, the score pulled me in, and there are some truly interesting bits of camerawork. There's quite a bit of violence, but there isn't too much of it. These scenes are very briefly on screen, while the performances, the score, and the camerawork make these moments feel much more intense and brutal than they actually are. Even when Big Bad Wolves makes small mistakes, the visuals aid in keeping audiences captivated from the moment the feature starts until the credits start rolling.
This production is smart, entertaining, and funny. It feels quite odd laughing in a feature such as this, but that's part of the charm that writer/directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado simply have. The plot itself isn't new, but the execution is the secret key. This is an intense motion picture that still manages to make us laugh, yet question why the humor works. I have some gripes with the picture that I couldn't brush off very easily, but the overall film works on numerous levels. There are many features with similar plots of vengeance, but Big Bad Wolves has a howl that resonates better than most. Recommended.