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Big Bad Wolves

This Israeli film qualifies as a shocker because of its plot -- a hunt for a serial killer who tortures and beheads little girls -- but the real stunner is that writer-directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado put a comic spin on this horrific premise.

The chief suspect, Dror (Rotem Keinan), is a religious teacher quick to deny any accusations of pedophilia. When an over-enthusiastic cop named Miki (Lior Ashkenazi) unsuccessfully employs a couple of goon officers to extract a confession from Dror, the most likely suspect is freed.

Demoted to traffic duty, Miki takes matters into his own hands, but finds himself in competition in a plot to kidnap the suspect. The last victim's father, tough ex-cop Gidi (Tzahi Grad), also wants to discuss the case with Dror in a remote house in the country, surrounded by Arab villages, where no one can hear screams from the basement. Miki, caught in the middle, comes along for the ride. But ultimately, Gidi's methods -- he employs the same torture techniques as the killer -- force Miki to re-evaluate the revenge scheme.

Suffice it to say, there is some gruesome content here. (Big Bad Wolves isn't likely to be included in the Winnipeg Jewish Film Festival program anytime soon.) But against all odds, the movie does manage to elicit some astringent comedy, especially when Gidi is obliged to postpone the torment upon the unexpected arrival of his rumpled, traditional dad (Israeli comic actor Dov Glickman), who ends up joining the torture party.

The upshot: It's a slippery slope between torture for pathological pleasure and torture for justice/revenge, and the movie achieves a near-impossible feat by eliciting uneasy laughter from the moral pratfalls that ensue. 'Ö'Ö'Ö1/2

 

Dead Shadows

This French sci-fi/horror entry is about a young man fighting an alien invasion in the comparatively scenic environs of Paris. It demonstrates a mixed bag of influences, mostly American genre product -- Night of the Comet meets John Carpenter's The Thing -- with some visual inspiration courtesy of infamous Italian graphic novelist Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri, minus the lurid, graphic sexuality... more or less.

If it lacks artistry, it's because director David Cholewa came into movies not as a writer, producer or even actor, but as a sales agent. He boasts a firm grasp on what kind of movie would sell. Hence, this movie exists to fulfil the promise of a teaser reel and a one-sheet, which may sound dismally commercial, but really, it falls in the tradition of classic American exploitation movies, many of which came into existence because producers created socko posters before a frame of film was ever shot.

Chris (Fabian Wolfrom) is a young man damaged by a childhood trauma: 10 years earlier, he witnessed his father kill his mother, apparently under the psychic influence of a passing alien comet.

Chris may seem a normal young Parisian, but he happens to be terrified of the dark. (Presumably that's why he lives in the City of Lights.) When the comet arrives again, it touches down, spawning all manner of havoc amid Paris's social scene, which here includes an "apocalypse party" that lives up to its premise.

Running at a lean 76 minutes, the movie's slimy '90s-era visual effects are cheap, but the acting is better than we have a right to expect (including an appearance by Arrow in the Head's online critic John Fallon as a Canadian tough guy in the neighbourhood). Arguably, the movie's most inspired moment is when the exhausted Chris lies down in the street only to be comforted by a maternal woman who, Chris eventually notices, has spider legs.

It's safe to say director Cholewa has some issues with women. So did Alfred Hitchcock. Suffice it to say that's pretty much where the two filmmakers' affinities begin and end. 'Ö'Ö

 

Beneath

This film by indie genre director Larry Fessenden comes with two different tag lines: "Terror lies just below the surface" (yawn) and "They're only friends on the surface."

The latter is not only a better tag line, it's a succinct summary of the movie. Six friends go on a post-graduation holiday at a lake retreat, only to find themselves stranded up the creek without a paddle, with a large, prehistoric, man-eating fish circling them in the water. The gang includes the lonesome, misunderstood kid who puts his friends' lives at risk, an obnoxious would-be filmmaker, a wannabe actress, a jock whose glory days are past him, and the brother who has always lived in his shadow. The most decent person in the bunch is also the first item on the menu.

Fessenden says he was influenced by Jaws. As in Steven Spielberg's film, we are made uneasy by a creature that is largely invisible through most of the movie, but where Jaws's three protagonists combined their resources to defeat the fish, this bunch are quick to look for ways to sacrifice each other to get off the lake alive.

Shot on a low budget without any star power, this is no Jaws. Its main similarity is that the killer fish is a large, practical, robotic dummy that looks pretty fake at times. Any moments of terror are pretty muted and lacking impact.

The movie's biggest thrill is its sheer misanthropy. Instead of having characters you can root for, you have some characters who are less unlikable than others.

In Beneath, heroism is a little minnow that quickly gets gobbled up by the bigger fish of self-interest. 'Ö'Ö'Ö

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2014 C14

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