Tuesday 27 August 2013

Big Bad Wolves - Film 4 Frightfest Review


Written and directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado

Tzahi Grad searches for his daughter's remains

From Hora to Horror, Israel for so long famed for having given the world the Hava Nagila is fast becoming a centre of excellence in the hard and cynical world of horror movie production. Even more impressively, Film 4’s annual festival of scary movies Frightfest, selected the Israeli feature Big Bad Wolves to close the 2013 four day event, a deserved mark of recognition for writer/director duo Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado.

Their’s is a carefully crafted tale that darts between horror, tragedy and wry black comedy. This combination of three micro-genres makes for a delicate tightrope walk of a script, particularly given the paedophilic child killing thread that runs through the movie. Can one really laugh at moments within such a film? Keshales and Papushado, by portraying acts of evil and their impact upon ordinary people, suggest that one can.

The (chilling) opening titles of the movie set the tone with a young girl’s abduction, whom we then learn very early on, has been brutally murdered and beheaded (offscreen). From the outset the cops have Dror, their prime suspect under arrest who when violently beaten during a bungled questioning, is obliged to be released by the police to avoid a complaint of brutality. Gidi, the young girl’s father has done some investigative work of his own and also believes that the released man murdered his daughter. The bungling over-zealous cop is demoted to traffic duties but sets about privately stalking the suspect, as does Gidi. The two men soon trap and imprison their target, with Gidi's motive being to torture Dror until he reveals the location of his daughter's head. With violence that is often graphic though never gratuitous, Big Bad Wolves remains a movie that is strictly for those who like their horror served bloody.

Keshales and Papushado extract fine performances from their cast. Rotem Keinan's Dror whose ambiguity of performance is sustained throughout the movie, leaves the audience never knowing whether he is guilty or not until the final scenes. In a fascinating interview with cinema website Premscene (@Premscene on Twitter), Keinan talked of the challenges of playing such an indeterminate character. He hints that the film merits a second viewing (he is right, it does) to fully appreciate the detail that he puts into playing his complex character.

In Psycho, Hitchcock introduced us to the concept of the dominating mother (albeit in Norman Bate’s case, a delusion of his schizophrenic mind). In Big Bad Wolves, the writers give us the Jewish mother, or more specifically the Jewish grandmother, as Gidi (a convincing performance from Tzahi Grad) is frequently interrupted from his torturous activities by his mother calling his cellphone. He tries to fob her off, eventually feigning illness. Wrong move. When she hears he maybe unwell, she dispatches her elderly husband to deliver their middle-aged son some soup. The old folk aren’t aware of what Gidi is up to and this counterpoint of introducing the stereotypical Jewish mother, fussing whilst Gidi vents his vengeful rage, is a clever cocktail of concepts from the writers. When Yoram, his father, does show up at the remote cabin that Gidi has acquired for his grisly purpose, he quickly understands what his son is up to. Initial shock gives way to a measured anger and the display of emotions that underlie the wreaking of a grandfather’s vengeance upon the man he believes has murdered his granddaughter, is a chilling masterclass from Israeli veteran actor Doval’e Glickman.

Whilst Gidi is away from the cabin the hungry Yoram, left to guard Dror, helps himself to a slice of cake unaware that Gidi has heavily laced it with sedatives. The episode of perceptive, almost slapstick comedy that follows as Dror, with disbelief, witnesses his captor bumble and stumble before falling unconscious, provides a moment of Tarantino’esque hilarity amidst this darkest of stories. Like Hamlet’s gravedigger scene, the funny moments of the tale break up the immense tragedy, almost giving moments of relaxation as the harrowing horror unfolds.

The movie is unquestionably a nightmare, bringing the Brothers Grimm’s philosophies into the 21st century, yet going further as it rakes over the agonising guilt of a parent who survives his child’s murder. Haim Frank Ilfman’s score is majestic yet well balanced, whilst Giora Bejach’s photography, particularly the menacing opening sequence, is similarly excellent.

Keshales and Papushado have crafted a beautifully clever picture that deserves awards. Their story’s final act will leave you devastated.

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