Tribeca Review: "Big Bad Wolves"


“Big Bad Wolves” begins as a funny, brilliant thriller, which is all the more reason why the second half makes you feel awful. Israeli directors Aharon Keshales and Navat Papushado set up a disturbing mystery of a disappeared little girl and the cop who tries to find her. Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) is first seen with 3 other guys beating the life out of a helpless suspect. This will all be captured on video, posted on a Youtube-like website, ensuring Miki is relieved of duty pending investigation.

But some more bad news. Before this even happens the girl is found in the woods, murdered and with strong evidence of sexual assault. Who can the suspect be? Dror (Rotem Keinen), a school teacher with a shady history, seems to be the one that everybody, even his own students, suspects. It could also be Gidi (Tzahi Grad), a seemingly closed-off silent type who follows people with a camera and creepily asks the realtor of a house he’s looking at if she could go down to the dark, underground basement (setting a terrific mood as the camera travels through its dark corridors and feeling of complete claustrophobia) and scream for him to test if the sound is muffled.

The first half is purposely vague on a couple of points, only to expertly catch us off guard later on. Out of Miki, Dror, and Gidi, two will gang up on the other and here is where Keshales and Papushado give us all sorts of sadistic torture (toenail pulling, finger breaking, chest burning, neck sawing) that they want you to believe is under a guise of “this is human nature”. The fact that at least one of the two men still seems to have some moral center while the other carries guilt with himself for a different reason humanizes them, the excessive violence is never thrilling, its just cringe-worthy.

What is even harder to defend though is that there seems to be a level of quirk that has no place here. There are breaks in the action so that one character can talk with his annoying mom, the two guys discuss if they should rape their captive, and there is a lighthearted scene where a character bakes a cake. The film goes from sadism to trying to garner inappropriate laughs and soon it becomes nearly impossible to take it seriously.

2.5 out 5 stars