BIG BAD WOLVES (2013) – directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado


There’s 120 feature films playing this year at the Fantasia International Film Festival. I could live without seeing 118 of them. There were two films on my must-see list and BIG BAD WOLVES by directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado was at the very top of it. Their feature film debut RABIES, which was held two years ago at Fantasia, was such a mind-blowing, visceral experience at the movies that I liken it to the time I saw Darren Aronofsky’s PI at Fantasia way back when, in that both were startling examples of a filmmaker with such a mastery of cinematic language you would think you were watching the work of a veteran in the twilight of his career, rather than a novice popping their filmmaking cherry. Needless to say, I went into BIG BAD WOLVES with rather high expectations and I’m very pleased to announce that Keshales and Papushado not only lived up to them, but exceeded them immensely.

There are many reasons why BIG BAD WOLVES is such an enjoyable experience. The casting is wonderful with many of the actors looking like dead ringers for such Hollywood greats as Robert Duvall, Mel Gibson and Paul Giamatti. The film is gorgeous to look at whether it’s the impeccably framed close-ups of our heroes (and villains) in action or the slick and subtle dolly camera movements (see the opening credits sequence). The sound design and music is also very well done adding just the right amount of tension and dread in any given scene.

But chief among all of these things is the fantastic screenplay. At the end of the day, cinematography, editing and sound design are all smoke and mirrors. Any good motion picture is built upon a strong cast and a stronger script and thankfully filmmakers Keshales and Papushado understand this concept to a tee. The story is about a series of brutal murders that puts the lives of three men on a collision course – the father of the latest victim now out for revenge, a vigilante police detective operating outside the boundaries of law, and the main suspect in the killings – a religious studies teacher arrested and released due to a police blunder.

The film starts off as a police procedural with almost some hints of a giallo insofar as there’s been a murder (with a whodunnit factor), a civilian is given immunity to act beyond the law in order to find said criminal, and there are red herrings galore as far as who the filmmakers want us to believe is the murderer. For a good part of the beginning of the film, we’re led to believe that the man (who ends up being the father of the victim) is indeed the killer as we see him spying on the vigilante police detective as well as the religion professor and see him purchasing a home that has a sound-proof basement (in a really great scene where we think he’s going to kill the realty agent). But then just when we think we have him figured out, there’s a twist in the plot and the tables are suddenly turned where all signs point to the religion professor being the killer. Or is he? The film’s twists and turns definitely keep the audience engaged right until the end credits.

One thing I ought to point out is that contrary to what you might gather about the film from viewing elements of the trailer is that it’s not a torture porn film. I have to admit that once things settle down to a simmer and the film really begins (once the father has the religion professor locked up in his basement), I feared that this was simply going to turn into the typical torture porn/revenge film where the father of a sexually assaulted daughter gets violent retribution by systematically tearing apart the man responsible for the nefarious deed. Thankfully, that’s not the case as what could have been yet another variation on HOSTEL/SAW/etc. turns into one of the funniest, cleverest and original takes on the revenge film.

Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado have been referred by many as the Israeli Coen Brothers and it’s easy to see why. Like the Coens, Keshales and Papushado both work within genre and yet manage to transcend the cliche trappings of it by adding new and unexpected layers that not only surprise and delight longtime fans of these kinds of films but also prove to those who would otherwise scoff at the idea of watching a crime/revenge film that this is a legitimate art-form that’s just as capable, if not more so, of evoking the same powerful emotions like your typical art-house film.

I had a ball watching BIG BAD WOLVES and along with DOOMSDAYS and IT’S ME, IT’S ME, this film will not only find a spot in my top 10 of Fantasia, but likely in my top 10 of 2013.




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