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July 18, 2018

Big Bad Wolves

by Franz Patrick


Big Bad Wolves (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

Three children play hide-and-seek. The boy starts a countdown against a tree and the girls run toward an abandoned house. While inside, one of them chooses to hide in a wardrobe. The other changes her mind and dashes outside, desperate to find any hiding place. The boy finds the latter girl without much effort. However, when they open the wardrobe, their friend is no longer there. The only trace of her is a red shoe she had been wearing just a few minutes prior. Someone must have taken her.

Written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, “Big Bad Wolves” is like a confident would-be singer who happens to be tone deaf. The intention is to create a hybrid of dark comedy and thriller but the ideas on paper and execution rarely mix in a manner that is synergistic. What results is a picture that dares to push envelope but severely lacking in dramatic push that is designed to get us to care about the fates of its characters. It requires more effort than what is usually required to get into its story.

The plot is not about the children but the adults involved in the aftermath. Micki (Lior Ashkenazi) is a cop who is convinced that Dror (Rotem Keinan), a schoolteacher, is a pedophile and the man responsible for the missing girl. In a constantly evolving plot that stops about halfway through, it is most bizarre that I found the suspect more fascinating and—get this—more sympathetic, especially for a suspected creep, than the cop who wants some kind of justice.

“Justice” is an operative word because his definition may not match that of someone who wishes to know all the facts before arriving at a conclusion. It makes one wonder wether the intention of the writer-directors is to make the viewers feel uneasy when it comes to who to care more about. There are more than a handful of scenes where we observe Micki doing the wrong thing—and yet a few viewers might argue he is simply following his gut.

Yes, there is violence and torture. They are prevalent in the second half and I found them unnecessary at times. We see a character breaking another person’s fingers. And then a hammer gets involved. And then a plier. And then a blowtorch. You get the picture. About thirty minutes into the scenes involving torture, I started to feel bad about what I was seeing. It isn’t that these scenes are not well made. They just are not for me. I found them pointless and redundant.

For example, let us take a group of scenes where comedy and thrill fail to reach a fruitful partnership. The character being tortured in the chair is pretty much mutilated. The man inflicting the pain holds up a tool and the camera settles in a certain angle as to create anticipation. There is a beat or two. We look at the tool and the body part about to be dismembered. Then a timer goes off. Or the doorbell rings. Or there is a phone call. These occur in a cycle and I began to suspect that the filmmakers were simply buying time. There is no reason for the picture to run for almost two hours.

I enjoyed the final fifteen minutes of “Big Bad Wolves” even though the series of scenes offer nothing new or groundbreaking. I liked it because there is emphasis placed on the consequences of one’s action or inaction. If Keshales and Papushado had minimized the repetitiveness of scenes involving physical torture and actually written more scenes that communicate bitter irony, the work would have had more substance. Instead, what we are handed is a story with an interesting premise that eventually gets mired in what it is arguing against. The screenplay is confused.

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