It’s a shame that Peter Berg already named his bitter 1998 debut film Very Bad Things. Argentine writer-director Damián Szifron could’ve used the title for his latest, WILD TALES. It would perfectly describe what goes down in this 2015 Best Foreign Language Oscar nominee, and Szifron succeeds in capturing the wicked black-comic spirit Berg missed.
Wild Tales is an outrageous collection of shorts set in Szifron’s homelanda sextet of improbable shaggy-dog stories, insane urban legends and entertainingly twisted cautionary yarns of the sort that people dispense during a night of heavy drinking, tied together by violent themes.
Several characters take revenge via extreme or brutal means. In one vignette, a waitress ponders whether to get back at the gangster-turned-politician who has popped up in her restaurant after ruining her family’s life. (Her ex-con cook suggests spiking his meal with rat poison.) A demolitions expert gets frustrated when his car is towed, which sets off a chain of eventswell, you can probably guess where this is going.
But something else lingers underneath all of this damn-near macabre madness. Most of the stories include a tug-of-war between social castes, with the upper and working classes duking it out over who can do the most dirt. One tense tale has a self-centered yuppie and a fed-up average Joe fighting to the death in the desert, the have and the have-not literally going toe-to-toe.
Szifron has a devilish good time crafting these stories. The dude has a sharp, sophisticated eye, and a flair for creating morally ambiguous characters you don’t know whether to root for. Nowhere is this clearer than in the climactic centerpiece, a wedding that goes off the rails when the bride learns her husband cheated on her with one of the guests. Your sympathies might bounce back and forth between the bride and the groom in this section, which ends with the most brilliant use of a Bobby Womack song I’ve ever heard in a movie. But that’s Wild Tales for youa wondrous, whacked-out look at people doing what they think is right.