Film

'Big Bad Wolves' Is Designed to Scare the Parents, Instead of the Children

Unpredictable, twisted, and energetic, Big Bad Wolves is a unique, writhing beast that constantly subverts your expectations.


Big Bag Wolves

Director: Aharon Keshales, Navot Papushado
Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Rotem Keinan, Tzahi Grad
Distributor: Magnolia
Rated: NR
Release date: 2014-04-22

When a trio of young children play what appears to be an innocent game of hide and seek, the dreamy slow motion and throbbing score inform you that there is something much darker on the hunt. So begins Big Bad Wolves, the now-on-Blu-ray thriller from directing duo Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado—the pair behind 2010’s Rabies, the first horror movie to come out of Israel. Tense, twisted, and, oddly enough, startlingly funny in a way that occasionally calls to mind early Coen Brothers films, Big Bad Wolves grabs you from the opening and drags you, often kicking and screaming, along for the ride.

This first scene results in the horrific kidnapping and murder of a young girl, and this tragic event throws three men together in a brutal collision. You have Micki, (Lior Ashkenazi), the cop on the case who works outside the restrictive bounds of the law; Gidi (Tzahi Grad), the father of the dead girl; and Dror (Rotem Keinan), the suspected killer. Before long, Dror is strapped to a chair in the basement of a secluded house, as the others work him over, searching for answers about Gidi’s daughter’s missing head. No one should have to bury their child without a head. The whole film plays like the reverse of a fairy tale, designed to terrify parents instead of their children.

While this could have easily descended into another torture movie, and there are definitely tropes from that genre, Keshales and Papushado’s script keep it fresh. Perhaps it's the cultural stance that provides a unique point of view, but they keep Big Bad Wolves full of wicked surprises, a thick, moody atmosphere, create an interesting dynamic between the three leads, and take an exploitation revenge framework and class it up.

Each of the actors brings an astonishing rainbow of grays to their performances, with each providing their own perspective. Gidi is the driven father, searching for answers that he thinks will bring him peace, who also takes the time to reference chaos theory. Micki, who resembles a more macho Steve Carell, is the source of most of the humor, and though he’s not above kidnapping and torturing a suspect, he remains likable throughout.

Dror is harder to crack, which is the point. You never know why everyone suspects him of this heinous crime, after all he’s a bible teacher who has never been in trouble. Still, there's something unnerving and 'off' about him, and you fluctuate back and forth on whether you believe his claims of innocence, whether you despise him or empathize with him. In something of a notable feat, the film keeps you guessing about his true nature until the very last moment.

Layered Hitchcockian strings and nasty dark twists and turns create a moody, suspense filled landscape. The directors snake the camera through the tight confines of the basement and play with depth of field in the wide exteriors to toy with your moods. But despite how heavy the subject matter is—we’re talking pedophilia, murder, and particularly mean spirited uses for a blowtorch—Big Bad Wolves is never so oppressively bleak that you lose all hope that someone, somewhere, eventually, might do the right thing, or at least something that isn’t completely terrible.

And the pitch-black sense of humor remains constant even in the darkest times. It has an uncomfortable gallows style humor, but a well-timed laugh offers you a brief breath that you need from time to time.

Unpredictable—in an earned way, not a crazy coincidences coming out of left field—pretty to look at, and energetic, Big Bad Wolves a unique, writhing beast that subverts your expectations and constantly changes how you see things.

The picture in Blu-ray is, of course, crisp and clear, and provides an fantastic delivery system for the photography. You get a trailer, a three-minute look at the film from AXS TV—Mark Cuban owns both that network and Magnet, who distributed the film and released this disc—but the key piece is a 16-minute behind the scenes documentary. You get all the usual stuff you expect, like interviews with the cast and crew about the origins of the story, but the one thing that comes through is how much fun everyone had making this movie. Everyone involved has an impressive level of enthusiasm, given such a dark premise, and that zest is infectious.

7

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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