In World War Z a zombie apocalypse was required to motor a globe-trotting trip from South Korea to Israel, whereas all it takes for Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves to make the same journey is the filmmakers’ genre savviness and a wily renationalisation of ideas. For much as Keshales and Papushado’s masterful debut Rabies (2010) used a slasher frame and Coens-style ensemble chaos for its genre-bound commentary on the minefield of Israeli politics, this follow-up imports the twisted tropes of torture and revenge familiar from Korean films Save the Green Planet! and I Saw the Devil (with the odd hammer blow from OldBoy for good measure) to shine a light right in the face of beleaguered Israel’s questionable response to terror.
“Maniacs aren’t afraid of guns, maniacs are afraid of maniacs,” declares Gidi (Tzahi Grad), in justification of his particular retributive methodology. Gidi’s daughter was the latest in a series of young girls to have been abducted, raped, tortured and beheaded, and so Gidi has been planning to kidnap the prime suspect in the case, religious studies teacher Dror (Rotem Keinan), for some extra-judicial vengeance, when his path crosses that of Micki (Lior Ashkenazi), a police detective with a similar plan for violent freelance interrogation. And so, these three fathers find themselves in a tool-strewn basement together, imitating each other’s machismo and madness until it becomes difficult to tell perpetrator and victim apart.
Big Bad Wolves deploys a series of masterful Hitchcockian twists to ensure that the viewers’ sympathies and prejudices are all put through the wringer – and the filmmakers show a darkly funny way of repeatedly interrupting the horrific proceedings with farcical domestic banalities (phone calls from mum, visits from dad) that point precisely to the homegrown nature of these men’s callously entitled self-righteousness. For amidst all the thrilling entertainment and black comedy to be found here, there are also serious reflections on Israel’s aggressive sense of victimhood and historically rooted longing for revenge (passed down from father to son). So it is hardly a coincidence that the extreme techniques used on Dror are inspired in part by the army experience of Gidi’s father Yoram (Dov Glickman), and in part by the atrocious details of the original crime – while the claustrophobic ‘hellhole’ in which these vigilante torments take place is repeatedly said to be surrounded by Arab villages. Here the spirit of an eye for an eye gives rise to an endless cycle of self-replicating, reciprocal insanity in which, as always, it is the next generation that will pay the heaviest price.
© Anton Bitel