‘Big Bad Wolves’ shows its teeth

Big Bad WolvesThere’s a fine line between torture porn and torture art. The difference between the two could mean lingering on a sliced throat or torn toenail for too long. “Big Bad Wolves” walks that tightrope with finesse and a vicious moral center.

After a series of brutal murders, a vigilante cop Miki (Lior Ashkenazi, “Footnote”) kidnaps suspected child murderer Dror (Rotem Keinan, “Epilogue”) only to find the father of Dror’s latest victim, Gidi (Tzahi Grad, “Eyes Wide Open”), has the same idea.

After a haunting slow-mo opening sequence, the action starts right off. “Wolves” has no problem lingering on the gory details. What sets it apart is its restraint. Understanding that leaving the worst to the viewer’s imagination is sometimes best, the movie pulls back at just the right moments, enhancing the sense of dread tenfold.

Despite a weaker performance by relative newcomer Keinan, the acting is superb overall. Gidi’s delicate sadism is foreboding. He sums up the movie in two simple sentences: “Maniacs aren’t afraid of guns. Maniacs are afraid of maniacs.”

When his stone-faced demeanor gives way to panic, the tension is palpable. And the almost-unrecognizable Ashkenazi is excellent as well.

Showing a knack for both the claustrophobic and expansive, directors Keshales and Papushado direct the camera in innovative ways. Numerous scenes play out unexpectedly and some moments are expertly misdirected to horrifying degrees. Even then, the movie is extremely funny. The humor is pitch black and fits like a knife in a wound.
While there’s a lot to praise in “Wolves,” one crucial element isn’t expanded on and ends up feeling cheap. It comes right in the beginning and I won’t spoil it, but the film does feel lesser for it.

The movie shines because it knows what story it wants to tell. Where the more extreme torture flicks like “Guinea Pig: The Devil’s Experiment” and “The Angels’ Melancholy” fail is they don’t know what story they want to tell. All they care about is shocking and disgusting the viewer.

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But “Wolves” knows that when it comes torture, substance is key. An extreme undercurrent of sadness is interlaced with every bone broken and neck sliced. The film’s relentless sense of moral ambiguity ends up undoing the characters in unexpected and harrowing ways. When the credits roll, it’s hard not to think, “Who’s the big bad wolf in this fairytale?”

Title: “Big Bad Wolves”
Director(s): Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Release Date: Jan. 17, 2014
Genre: Dark comedy
Country: Israel
Rating: 4/5