Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado clearly define the stakes to Big Bad Wolves with confident stride. A series of gruesome child murders plague a small Israeli suburb, with a religious studies teacher as the prime suspect. There’s no evidence pointing in his direction beyond some unconfirmed rumors - which is good enough for a hard-nosed cop and his posse. But with only unsubstantiated rumors to go on, there’s not much this crew of cops can do to detain the mild-mannered teacher. The beat down does end up going viral though, with public outcry against both the cop and teacher forcing them out of their jobs. Meanwhile, the father of one of the victims subscribes to the cop’s mentality and sees this as an opportunity for the two to join forces - where the two abduct the teacher and conduct their own form of brutal interrogation.
While both Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado tinker around with fairy tale tropes, most specifically in its morbid retelling of what occurs during one of the assailants reported abductions, the film is clearly more influenced by auteurs, both new and old. Homage to films like Point Break, Miller’s Crossing, and Blow Out are among the obvious standouts, but they’re also linked by some of the thematic concerns found in South Korean cinema. Films like Oldboy and Memories of Murder serve as both narrative and thematic reference points as the picture progresses. A mash-up of genre and form, it’s clear why the film was a favorite of Quentin Tarantino’s at the South Korean Film Festival.
Big Bad Wolves might not posit a particularly enlightened worldview, nor is it truly concerned with addressing the social concerns of truth under the strains of interrogation. This might come off as a slight, but it’s commendable given that both writer/directors Keshales and Papushado know exactly what they’re embarking upon and accomplishes it without much fuss. Performances are uniformly solid with all involved aware of the tightness of the scripting - there’s not a wasted scene or line to the picture, providing the more attuned viewer with clues to what the narrative puzzle spells out. Visually agreeable with impressive set pieces, Big Bad Wolves is an immaculate production free of pretentions. Whereas I’ve struggled with a series of recent release - The Past’s ill-conceived pacing, The Great Beauty’s self-seriousness, Lone Survivor’s exploitative violence - Big Bad Wolves remedies all those issues as being a lean, light, and viscerally efficient cinematic delight.