The Israeli writing-directing duo Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado made a stir in 2010 when they did the improbable: breathed new life into the slasher film with their feature debut, Rabies.
They try the impossible with Big Bad Wolves: a crafty, suspenseful, violent horror film that touches on the inner lives of sexual predators, the question of guilt and remorse in the human soul, and the practice of torture. A psycho-killer film turned on its head, Big Bad Wolves even manages to serve as a metaphor for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The movie races out of the gate with a scene out of Reservoir Dogs. Four cops investigate a serial killer who abducts, rapes, tortures, and beheads young girls. They corner the lead suspect and drag him to an abandoned industrial lot, where they try to extract a confession by that tried-and-true method: bludgeoning his back and sides with phone books.
A meek, short, bookish man who teaches high school Bible studies, Dror (Rotem Keinan) protests his innocence. He's released and the cops are punished when a video of the beatdown shows up on YouTube.
Hard-nosed lead detective Micki (Lior Ashkenazi) can't let go, and he begins stalking the teacher. In turn, he's shadowed by Gidi (Tzahi Grad), father of one of the victims.
Gidi kidnaps Dror and takes him to an isolated cottage, where he plans to finish what the cops could not. When Micki gets in the way, he takes him along.
In a series of breathtaking sequences soaked with gruesome torture out of Eli Roth and shot with Coen Brothers bravado and style, Gidi and Micki take turns interrogating Dror.
Eventually even Gidi's elderly father (Dov Glickman) joins in after voicing his disappointment at Gidi's lack of flair as a torturer. Back in his day, he boasts, the army really taught you how to torture prisoners.
Like all entries in the torture-porn subgenre popularized by Roth's Hostel, Big Bad Wolves is exhausting to watch and at points truly repellent.
There's only so much finger-breaking, toenail-pulling, and blowtorch flesh-searing a sane person can take. But perhaps that's the point.
The film's most shocking element isn't the violence, but rather its insight into the psychology of people such as Gidi, so convinced of another's guilt that they are blinded to logic and incapable of empathy.
Despite the grisly, over-the-top violence, Big Bad Wolves keeps the viewer engaged with beautifully choreographed moments of side-splitting black humor.
With its clever plot twists and doubly ironic ending, Keshales and Papushado's little shocker is likely to join the roster of cult classics for years to come.
Directed by Navot Papushado and Aharon Keshales. With Lior Ashkenazi, Tzahi Grad, Rotem Keinan, Dov Glickman, Menashe Noy, Dvir Benedek. Distributed by Magnolia Films. In Hebrew with English subtitles
Running time: 1 hour, 40 mins.
Parent's guide: Not rated (graphic violence, extreme torture, profanity)
Playing at: The PFS Theater at the Roxy