A parent’s worst fear is that their children will be abducted, violated and murdered. It keeps them awake at night, gnaws on the fringes of their conscience and can alter the way they look at life and the world — sometimes irreparably. “Big Bad Wolves” banks on this fear and turns it into a story so dark and brutal that the Brothers Grimm are no doubt seething with jealousy.

Directed by Israel’s Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, “Big Bad Wolves” recounts the tale of a father seeking vengeance in the worst imaginable way after his 10-year-old daughter becomes the last victim in a series of child murders. The murderer not only rapes and kills, he also decapitates the girls, often while they are still alive.

Does that justify the endless and horrendous torture of the man suspected of these heinous crimes? For the father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), the moral question is not enough to give him pause as he breaks the fingers of his suspect — a mild-mannered religious teacher named Dror (Rotem Keinan) — one by one. First Gidi drags him inside the basement of his house then begins to work him over with a hammer and other spiked or blunt instruments that are on hand. His accomplice in the matter is police detective Miki (Lior Ashkenazi), currently on suspension because he nabbed Dror without concrete evidence. But both are convinced Dror is guilty as hell.

Big Bad Wolves (Okami wa Usowo Tsuku)
Director Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Run Time 101 minutes
Language Hebrew, Arabic
Opens Nov. 22

In the privacy of the basement and with plenty of weapons hanging from the walls, Miki and Gidi are free to do as they please, except when Gidi has to take a phone call from his mother and he pulls out the dutiful Jewish son routine. The film is full of pockets of humor such as this, but you get the feeling they’re there solely for the benefit of Gidi and Miki. Torture and abuse can get boring after a while and besides, they’re trying not to think of the teensy tiny possibility that Dror may actually be innocent. Dror certainly claims he is, over and over again.

“Big Bad Wolves” was Quentin Tarantino’s favorite film of 2013, and that alone merits a warning label. Nothing in here is supposed to make you feel glad or even vindicated; each atrocious brutality is capped by another atrocity that’s unbearable to witness.

Unlike Tarantino, though, Keshales and Papushado are restrained about depicting outright gore. The camera always averts its gaze at the crucial moment when you just can’t take it anymore. This is one movie where a vivid imagination may do a lot of damage but, on the other hand, Keshales and Papushado operate on the assumption that when it comes to horror, less is definitely more. In short, there’s no escaping the hell unfolding here, even though it is tempered with jokes, wisecracks and cozy domestic scenes, such as one where Gidi bakes a cake laced with poison.

It’s not uncommon for a victim to turn into a vigilante but, in this case, Miki and Gidi turn into terrorists. “Maniacs are afraid of maniacs,” says Gidi. Ain’t it the truth.

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