Big Bad Wolves
Directed by: Aharon Kshales, Navot Papushado
I'm gonna cut to the chase. Never have I ever been both enthralled and annoyed with a film in equal measures. That's no easy feat, but after doing some digging around on the internet, it seems I'm not in the minority on this one.
I'd actually never heard of Big Bad Wolves until a site I follow, Psychotronic Netlfix, recently recommended it to me. Soon after I learn that none other than Quentin Tarantino declared it the best film of 2013, so boom! My interest is high on this one now. Other than knowing it was some sort of revenge thriller, I knew nothing about where it came from, the production or who made it. So let's get down to brass taxes.
Big Bad Wolves is the second film from Israeli writing and directing partners Aharon Kashales and Navot Papushado. On a technical level, BBW is amazing. The film is infused with so much gorgeous imagery and a constant aura of precision filmmaking. I'm not kidding. One of the first things you'll notice even before the totally rad title pops up in the most creative way, is how beautiful every single frame of film is shot. That's just the beginning. As the film continues to twist and turn leaving you unsure of who is on what side one thing is always constant, the stunning visuals.
BBW is going to be really difficult to try and summarize because even then, it's treading a tricky line where I don't want to give too much away. But basically, and this is extreme basics here, a serial killer is on the loose targeting children. He leaves the bodies, but keeps the heads. A rogue detective is hot on the trail of someone he suspects is the killer, and with the help of an unlikely ally, he sets out to uncover the truth.
One of BBW's greatest assets, aside from it's lush visuals, is the fact that the film keeps you guessing. As much as you like to think you're one of those who can figure it out fairly quickly, I can guarantee you that you won't be able to do that with this film. Personally, I'm not one to brag of being able to "figure it out", as I'm only able to do that a good half the time. At the same time though, I don't really try. My interests lye in just enjoying the film and letting things unfold as they're supposed to and not in working out the end of the film in my head long before it's over. My movie buddy does though, and a good chunk of the time she's spot on. But in this case, we both kept yelling "I don't know who it is!", which was hilarious, entertaining and frustrating all at the same time. All things considered though, that's an admirable thing to pull off; having the ability and know-how to keep you guessing the entire time.
You know what? The more I think about it, the more I realize that I don't think I can even really get into what bothered me about the film other than to say it's the ending, because in doing so, I potentially give away too much and worse yet, ruin the experience for you. Does that seem like a dick thing to do? I hope not. It's not really the angle I intended to take on this one, but as I sit here replaying this beautiful film in my head, it suddenly hit me that I just can't say too much. It's one of "those" types of films. I'll tell you what? I'll discuss my issue with the ending at the bottom of the review marked "Spoilers".
BBW is a fascinating film to say the least. While primarily a solid whodunit thriller, they've also managed to infuse some light humor from time to time, something that took me by surprise. And when you get into the second half, even some horror and torture porn comes into play. But it never goes as far as you think it will, or......let me rephrase that; as far as it should would be the right way of saying that. For all of it's inventive and bravado filmmaking, it never takes that extra step. They're lucky that it's as entertaining as it is, or this issue might have been a big problem. Which leads me to the ending. I'm not going to get into it for obvious reasons, but it's apparent that every step this film took was a calculated one, right down to it's conclusion.
If you haven't seen this film yet and do not want the ending ruined for you, then DO NOT continue reading. With that being said, lets get into it.
So the film ends with no clear explanation as to who the killer actually is. The film takes great pains in spending the entirety of the darn thing trying to make you believe that it could be practically any character in the film, both good and bad. The rogue cop, the grieving father, the man suspected as being the killer in the first place, hell, even the random guy who shows up on a horse from time to time. Even I couldn't rule him out! But the film ends with the guy who everyone believes to be the killer being tortured for most of the final act of the film and not once giving any indication that he was the actual killer. He never once strays from his story that he had nothing to do with it and he is not their guy. But, you come to find out that he had kidnapped the rogue cops daughter and held her hostage in his house once he discovered that he was the main suspect in the string of child killings. Did he kidnap the cops daughter as a way to say "Fuck you" to the cop who had been tirelessly harassing him for the entire film? Or did he do it because he is the damn killer and this was just another victim, yet he just hadn't gotten to kill her yet because he was kidnapped and tortured so he could confess? They don't say.
Furthermore, the last scene of the film is a shot of the girl laying on the suspected killers bed in a secret room that the cops never found when they went looking for her. But is she dead? Or just sleeping? Because the real killers trademark was removing the heads, yet the girl still has hers attached. Again, they offer no clear conclusion because boom! The scene fades to black and that's the end of the film. So what you have is a serious whodunit with no clear answer. Logically you can just assume that the guy being tortured was indeed the killer and the cops daughter was just another victim, but the filmmakers work so hard at trying to make you think it's practically everyone else. Add to that the fact that the guy never actually implicates himself, right down to his dying breath and it's frustrating as hell to have the film end with no clear answer to anything really. I don't think I'm alone in this also. From what I read, it's a big topic. We can all assume, but it'd be nice to have some closure on a story we invest so much in for 2 hours.
I may be grasping at straws with my complaint, but all in all, it's a solid thriller with hints of some authentic genius. These guys, who wrote and directed it, have some serious visual talent and know how to keep you invested in a film. They just need to work a little harder at the payoff in my humble opinion. I also feel they play with the tone a bit too much, often side-stepping the darkness of it all. And while pretty great all around, I just wish they'd gone that step further. It's always a constant feeling you get when watching this, that it just doesn't take that extra plunge when it could so heavily have benefited from a simple action like that. I wouldn't call it the "Best Film of 2013", but it is definitely a great one.