Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s Big Bad Wolves isn’t a great film, but it gets close to it. It feels like a film that wants to take you down into this dark, dark hole with them, all the while sticking their elbow in your ribs while giving you a cheeky wink while they’re doing it. Occasionally the little jabs and funny lines work well in this extremely black comedy. But other times it feels inappropriate given the subject matter.
This Israeli horror/crime film is about a killer of young girls. Not just any killing. The details are gruesome and horrifying and I’ll leave those details to be told by the film itself if you choose to take your chance on it. Anyways, the cops have an eye witness putting a local teacher named Dror at one of the crime scenes. The film opens with a less than official interrogation of said teacher by three rogue cops while their boss and lead investigator hangs back in the shadows. After being beaten with a very thick phone book the cops are told by the police chief to let him go as they don’t have enough evidence. They’re desperate to get this guy to talk as a young girl has just gone missing and they want to find her before its too late. So the cops begrudgingly let the teacher go(and throw in some money for the trouble.) The cops are told in no uncertain terms to leave the teacher alone, but one of the investigators named Micki is certain the teacher is guilty so he begins to tail the meek looking Dror to try and find him in the act. The missing girl is found dead in the woods, displayed for all to see. The girls distraught father is at the crime scene inconsolable obviously. In the interim the off the books beating the teacher got from the cops was videotaped by a kid that was hiding in the abandoned building and gets posted to Youtube. Micki is put on administrative leave and is told by his boss “Now you’re a civilian. You can do what you want”, meaning he can continue to investigate Dror so long as he’s not caught. Micki does follow the teacher, which ends up in a foot chase and the teacher getting tasered by Micki and thrown in his trunk. Unbeknownst to Micki, the dead girl’s father, named Gidi, is following Dror as well. This leads to both Micki and Dror being kidnapped by Gidi and then….
Well, if you want to know more you should just clear a couple hours of time and watch it. It’s on Netflix. The film is expertly made. It’s shot beautifully by Giora Bejach, and despite some off notes tone-wise it’s well written. The acting was also handled well, especially by Rotem Keinen as the teacher Dror. He had the task of making you question whether he was innocent or guilty and kept you guessing until the very end. My main problem with the film is that given the disturbing details of what happens to these poor girls we’re supposed to take this film as more of a dark comedy than straight up horror/crime noir. In my opinion the murdered girl’s father seems far too calm and easy to throw a joke out given that his daughter was found so brutally slain. He talks of the details of her demise like he’s reading a work of fiction rather than his own child’s murder. I’m sure Quentin Tarantino was an influence here, but Tarantino somehow allows you to take his stories and his characters with a grain of salt. It’s harder to do that with a story so grim as Big Bad Wolves.
It’s been a long time coming for me in regards to watching this film. I’ve owned the soundtrack for a year and a half now. It was a Record Store Day 2015 release through Death Waltz and I snagged it up down in Indianapolis on RSD at Luna Music. The wife and I were down there staying the night as we were seeing Sufjan Stevens at the Murat Theater. At that point I’d heard of the film but didn’t know anything about Frank Ilfman’s score. Let me tell you it’s an exquisite piece of music. It feels very classic; like a well-aged bottle of wine. It’s mainly built around strings and woodwinds and Ilfman captures the solemn mood and mournful desperation that permeates the film. Really, this score is almost too good for this film. It belongs on something that takes itself more seriously. A film like Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, which tackles a similar story like that of Big Bad Wolves, but with the grace and steady hand a child abduction film should use. But still, Ilfman’s score does lift this Israeli film up quite a few notches.
The vinyl from Death Waltz is another thing of beauty. Original artwork done by We Buy Your Kids and the vinyl itself pressed on pink vinyl(it’s impressive, really.) I’m consistently amazed at what Death Waltz/Mondo put out. And their taste in soundtracks is pretty stellar, which I think we can thank Spencer Hickman for that. He’s the guy that started Death Waltz Recording Company for the sole purpose of sharing these lost musical treasures with the world. He heard what the rest of us may have overlooked while watching Fulci and Argento flicks. Hickman, who now runs the music end of things at Mondotees in Austin, TX since the Death Waltz/Mondo merge, continues to amaze me.
But anyways, back to Big Bad Wolves.
If you can watch Big Bad Wolves, I recommend it. Tone-wise I think it can be off at times, but overall it’s a pretty striking film. It has the makings of a noir-ish cult classic. Solid acting, great cinematography, and some intense scenes for sure. But if you’re a fan of classic film scores by the likes of Bernard Herrmann, Thomas Newman, Cliff Martinez, and even Jeff Grace’s amazing House of the Devil score, you need to own Frank Ilfman’s Big Bad Wolves.
It’s a future classic, even more so than the film it scores.