Israel’s hypnotic fairy tale nightmare Big Bad Wolves releases today. We follow one driven cop, one driven-to-madness father, and one milquetoast teacher accused of the most heinous imagined acts. Not for the squeamish, the film boasts brilliant performances, nimble writing and disturbing bursts of humor. It treads in dark, dark territory, but repeatedly dares you to look away. It’s a bold and brilliantly realized effort.
It’s hard to imagine anyone really aching for a double bill like this, but it’s impossible to watch Big Bad Wolves without thinking of the under-seen and under-appreciated Prisoners. Hugh Jackman is a revelation as the father bent on finding his missing daughter in a film that bludgeons your senses and leaves you shaken. Impeccable casting, relentless intensity and crafty writing make this a challenging, fascinating film.
If you watched the film Prisoners and thought, wow, this could only be better if it were more graphic and a little funnier, then have I got the movie for you! (Also, get some psychiatric help.)
A mixture of disturbing fairy tale and ugly reality, Israel’s Big Bad Wolves takes you places you really don’t want to go, but damn if it doesn’t keep you mesmerized every minute.
The particularly vulgar slaughter of several little girls sets events in motion. One teacher is suspected. One cop is driven. One father suffers from grief-stricken mania. It’s going to get really ugly.
Filmmakers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado implicate everyone, audience included. They create intentional parallels among the three men, pointing to the hypocrisy of the chase and making accusations all around of a taste for the intoxicating bloodlust that comes from dominating a weaker person.
Their taut and twisty script keeps surprises coming, but it’s the humor that’s most unexpected. Handled with dark, dry grace by Lior Ashkenazi (the cop) and Tzahi Grad (the father) – not to mention Doval’e Glickman (the grandfather) – this script elicits shamefaced but magnetic interest. You cannot look away, even when the blowtorch comes out. And God help you, it’s hard not to laugh now and again.
The violence is not shot to amuse. It is jarring and awful. But the subdued lunacy of the perpetrators allows a complicated kind of respite from the ugliness in the basement. Complicated because it pulls you back over to the side of men torturing another who – for all we, the audience, know – is as innocent as he claims to be.
Clearly the filmmakers are interested in the toxic ineffectiveness of torture as a method of interrogation, but the film never feels preachy. The characters are too well drawn, the performances too compelling, and the writing too full of misdirection.
The duo abandon the dark and dreamy camerawork that gave the early reels its menacingly hypnotic feel, and while the straightforward grit of later material suits the content, it’s hard not to miss the Goth poetry of Act I. But these two know how to develop dread, punctuate the darkness with almost absurdly beautiful images, and deliver a punishing blow. Big Bad Wolves will haunt your sleep.
Pre-game warmups aren’t usually part of the moviegoing experience, but Prisoners may require a little preparation.
Quite simply, it will wear you out.
Director Denis Villeneuve and writer Aaron Guzikowski have crafted a relentlessly intense, utterly engrossing mystery/thriller that will bludgeon your nerves, tease your sensibilities and leave your morals in disarray.
Hugh Jackman is unbelievably great as a father desperate for answers after his daughter, and his neighbor’s daughter, are abducted on Thanksgiving Day. The assigned detective (Jake Gyllenhaal) believes a troubled local man (Paul Dano) is to blame, but can’t find the evidence to hold him. Jackman’s character, overcome with rage, takes matters into his own hands.
That’s all the info you need, but just a tiny fraction of the complex chain of events set in motion by the crime. Guzikowski, who adapted the Contrabandscreenplay last year, delivers a twisting, intelligent script that lulls you with the familiarity of the premise all the while it’s leading you places you may not want to go.
Villeneuve, best known for writing and directing the Oscar-nominated Incendies three years ago, makes a stunning English language debut that succeeds on many levels. If a thriller was all it was, it would be a good one, relying on a substance that recalls years of Hollywood films from Death Wishto Gone Baby Gone.
Prisoners transcends the genre in the way it forces its audience to face the same moral ambiguities the characters are up against. The stupendous cast, which also includes greats such as Terence Howard, Viola Davis and Melissa Leo, fills each character with gritty realism, allowing actions that seem justified in one set of circumstances to be easily called into question. As surprises mount, the film lands solid blows to perceptions of torture, fear-mongering, religious fanaticism, and even basic parenting.
Sound like a lot? It is, and the film earns every minute of its two and a half hour running time. It is a dark, cathartic journey that is not for the squeamish, and the film’s length only serves to reinforce the hell these people are going through. They want it to end, and so do you, but only because the film has hooked you so deeply.
You’ll need to pay attention and listen hard, and though you probably won’t figure things out early, the clues are all there in front of you. Prisoners is a breathtaking ride that rewards the effort it demands, ultimately providing a satisfying payoff, capped by an unforgettable final scene that may very well find its way into your dreams.