A chilling revenge is served in award-winning Big Bad Wolves

by Mark Burger

Having made their award-winning bow with 2010’s Rabies (Kalevet) — Israel’s very first horror feature —filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado encore with Big Bad Wolves, a coolly methodical psychological thriller and itself an award-winner.

The filmmakers make excellent use of fresh Israeli locations in detailing the hunt for a sadistic child-killer. Circumstantial evidence points to Dror (Rotem Keinan), a mild-mannered schoolteacher, but after overzealous detective Mickey (Lior Ashkenazi) roughs him up, Dror is released and Mickey suspended. That doesn’t stop the cop, who abducts his prime suspect in broad daylight — spied upon by Gidi (Tzahi Grad), whose young daughter was one of the victims.

Gidi has recently purchased a house in the woods with a very large cellar — one that makes a fine torture chamber to which he brings both Dror and Mickey. The cop and the grieving father make uneasy allies as they try to pry information from Dror, whose repeated claims of innocence they ignore. When Gidi’s father (Dov Glickman) unexpectedly shows up, he casually joins the interrogation — and adds a few tricks of his own.

Reminiscent of last year’s Prisoners, Big Bad Wolves is in the tradition, not surprisingly, of Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, and its elements of black comedy echo the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple (1984) and No Country for Old Men (2007). There are some gruesome scenes, but Papushado and Keshales savor more the expectation and suspense building up to those moments. Adding immeasurably are Giora Bejach’s polished cinematography and a pounding score by Haim Frank Ilfman that recalls Bernard Herrmann (who was, after all, a Hitchcock mainstay).

Essentially a four-hander, the cast delivers tight, taut performances. Keinan is suitably enigmatic as the accused, Ashkenazi and Grad suitably intense as his captors, and Glickman a genuine scene-stealer. Ironically, Glickman is one of Israeli’s most popular comedic personalities, and he clearly revels in a major change of pace.

(In Hebrew with English subtitles) Big Bad Wolves is scheduled to open Friday at a/perture cinemas in Winston- Salem.