Big Bad Wolves (US - BD RA)
Gabe huffs and he puffs and he blows the dust out of his Blu-ray player...
A series of brutal murders puts the lives of three men on a collision course: the father of the latest victim now out for revenge, a vigilante police detective operating outside the boundaries of law and the main suspect in the killings – a religious studies teacher arrested and released due to a police blunder. (From Magnet’s official synopsis)
Previous to Big Bad Wolves, Israeli writing/directing team Navot Papushado & Aharon Keshales had only made one other film – a 2010 shocker called Kalevet, aka: Rabies (2010). It is often referred to as ‘Israeli’s first horror film’ – a distinction I’m not sure I believe without further research. Kalevet made a splash outside of Israel during its festival run, but didn’t see nearly the same level of recognition Big Bad Wolves would when Quentin Tarantino named it his favourite movie of 2013. Given his taste for subversive revenge dramas, Tarantino’s enthusiasm is pretty predictable. Papushado & Keshales’ are working from a relatively traditional revenge template, but are sure to infuse it with plenty of character and irony, not to mention loads of uncompromising violence.
Papushado & Keshales’ screenplay is brimming with the kind of dry and funny cops and criminal interactions we would’ve called ‘Tarantinoesque’ 15 years ago, before such things became so common that we didn’t need a cute name for it anymore. These are perfectly pleasant, but what defines the film more than dialogue itself are the cute little subversions that switch up the tone. The directors largely succeed in emulating The Coen Brothers’ or Park Chan-wook’s penchant for skipping between drama, comedy, and horror without warning. The tonal shifts are most successful when a laugh is wedged in place of a shock. They’re less successful in the dramatic moments, but I’m pretty sure jet-black comedy was the intended effect. Still, I can’t fault any viewers that find the constant stream irony a little exhausting (a cake-baking break set to Buddy Holly’s ‘Everyday,’ for example). I imagine many of the more culturally-dependent references went over my head, but the mythology of the overbearing, guilt-thirsty Jewish mothers and the difficult relations between Israelis and their Arab neighbors aren’t exactly secrets.
I might have preferred a bit more complexity in terms of character types, especially since so much of the film is built around a very limited ensemble, but their clear motivations definitely make it easier to split audience allegiances. The moral grey areas tend to be better served by the plot points and narrative surprises that begin to pop up towards the end of the second act (which might be a misnomer on my part, since the film doesn’t really revolve around a three act structure). Still, the string of surprises ends too quickly and somewhat deflates the impact of a last minute gut punch. It’s like they lost a reel of dramatic tension on the way to the editing bay and hoped everything would still line up. Otherwise, the editing practices and overall momentum are admirably deliberate and the directors have thorough control of their visual environments. They get a lot of mileage out of their characters’ ritualistic behaviors and convey both comedy and distress through deceptively still compositions. They even find room for a brief, but exhilarating little foot-chase that proves their talents with fluid cinematic action. Perhaps their next film will feature more gunplay and acrobatics.
Big Bad Wolves was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and is presented here in 2.35:1, 1080p video. The directors and cinematographer Giora Bejach embrace the clarity of the format with clean backlit lines against soft focus backgrounds. Gradient blends are smooth, but don’t overwhelm the finer textures to create a more natural and film-like look, instead of an uncanny, hyper-digital look. The softest blends, specifically those backdrops, do appear a bit blobby at times, but never at the risk of contrast or important elemental separation. Fine digital grain and other noise thickens during the darkest scenes without overwhelming the cleanliness of the deep blacks or glowing light sources. The colour palette leans a bit warm and yellow, especially during the well-lit sequences. The darker scenes tend to carry more of a green tint that rarely compromise the rich black levels. Highlight hues, like teals, reds, and pinks, are generally homogenized and sharply separated from the more neutral hues. The diffused lights and soft backgrounds dictate that some of the most vivid colours bloom a bit, but these are stylistically planned artefacts.
This Blu-ray comes fitted with the film’s original Israeli soundtrack, presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. This is mostly a dialogue-driven track, but it features a number of subtle immersive techniques that give the track a lot of natural depth. Among the more impressive additions are outdoor environments brimming with chattering insects and the basement set, which is made moody by wet reverb and an eerie, unmotivated hum. The only particularly punchy noises are a handful of gunshots and some blasts of thunder. Frank Ilfman’s fantastic musical score is sort of reminiscent of the kind of things Danny Elfman was doing ten or so years ago ( Sleepy Hollow and Hulk spring to mind), but more baroque and frightening. The music is super rich and incredibly well-layered when given full rein of the channels and, when blended with dialogue and effects it has a nice depth via rear speaker enhancements.
- The Making of Big Bad Wolves (16:20, HD) – An EPK featurette that was clearly made to sell the film, including a lot of footage, excitable narration, cast and crew interviews, and raw, behind-the-scenes footage.
- AXS TV: A Look at Big Bad Wolves (3:00, HD) – Another elongated AXS TV trailer.
- Trailer and trailers for other Magnolia/Magnet releases.
I didn’t love Big Bad Wolves as much as I was hoping to, but my minimal complaints apply mostly to the structure and timing of the final act, which just doesn’t come together as effectively as I wanted. But the story is still there and the rest of the movie is a succulent mix of blacker than black comedy and tension. I have itty-bitty quibbles concerning Magnet’s 1080p transfer (most of which are likely a symptom of the film’s stylistic choices), was not impressed by the extras, and adored the DTS-HD MA soundtrack – especially where Frank Ilfman’s score was concerned.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 22nd April 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Hebrew and English (dub)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Making of Big Bad Wolves, AXS TV: A Look at Big Bad Wolves, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado
Cast: Lior Ashkenazi, Tzahi Grad, Doval'e Glickman, Rotem Keinan
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama and Thriller
Length: 110 minutes