Loose-limbed, rowdy, outrageous, and unsettling, Wild Tales is a mad, madly hysterical banquet of bad behaviour; a rude, scabrous, and welcome shot of mischief; and a feral, cathartic exorcism of the frustrations of contemporary life. Spring-loaded with ironic twist endings, it’s enormous fun.
The violence woven into everyday encounters drive people to cede to the undeniable pleasure of losing control. Harmless, if virile, road rage leads to vehicular destruction and a seatbelt hanging. A fatal hit-and-run turns into a multimillion-dollar conspiracy. A restaurant visit results in an assassination attempt. A series of parking tickets prompts an explosion. A lover’s betrayal causes wedding reception breakdown. Vulnerable in the face of a reality that dissolves and becomes unpredictable, the characters of Wild Tales cross and recross the thin line that divides civilization and barbarism.
Literally translated from the original Spanish as “Savage Stories,” Wild Tales is a quite brilliant black comedy will make you laugh and drive you crazy. Of the six standalone shorts on offer, three are excellent and two are decent, but every one lives up to that title. Grudges, minor insults, and found-out flirtations lead to chaos and murder on a cataclysmic scale. Delightfully deranged and wickedly hilarious, Wild Tales is a subversive, satirical collection of vignettes that coalesce around the central theme of revenge, wielding humour and horror in equal measure.
With Wild Tales, Argentinian writer-director Damián Szifron (Bottom of the Sea, On Probation) announces himself as a talented molecular mix of Tarantino, Rodriguez, and Almodóvar (a producer here). Szifron opens a window onto other people’s worst impulses rather than providing a mirror reflecting our own. Sugarcoating gratuitous violence with lethal doses of humour, he graphically illustrates what happens when the stress of 21st-century living causes regular citizens to “go postal.”
The anthology rarely feels mechanical, adhering to an internal logic that makes each punchline land with a satisfying burst of glee. Szifron has cannily structured the six stories using running time and general quality as his organizational criteria: the best segments serve as bookends. But despite the significant range of success, Wild Tales is an exemplary example of how to combine multiple tales in a coherent, complementary, and exhilarating manner. They are variations on the theme of outrage, the world’s most fashionable and contagious emotion.
Wild Tales has a surly attitude, a scathing wit, and a fresh directing voice in Szifron. Because he locks into the weirdness of the moment, stacking coincidences and playing puzzles in the background, the ratio of laughter to mayhem remains high despite the mounting pile of corpses. For something so mostly believable, Wild Tales is also surreal, bearing a resemblance to the likes of British sketch show The League of Gentleman. Indeed, it’s a unique storytelling endeavour that attempts to be laughably absurd and profoundly tragic. Even the music choices are pulpishly diverting and unexpectedly left-field.
The point of Wild Tales is blunt and reductive, and not an original thesis: Rational humans can transform, in an instant, into blindingly destructive forces of nature. The themes of corruption and distrust and disgust with bureaucracy are well-tread ground, but as sources of cinematic fodder, they’re scarily and friskily entertaining. And no matter how conventional, watching how much people are willing to spite themselves in order to take down perceived enemies has a perverse appeal.
Dignity and propriety shut down automatically in the face of anger, exasperation, or the lure of a quick buck (or a fortune). Wild Tales is interested in the methods of calculated mass dehumanization that are hidden beneath the practices of social institutions, the kind that explode in spectacular fashion after a put-upon soul is screwed over too many times. Tinged with class consciousness and shadowed by the fallacy that revenge is ultimately empowering, Wild Tales isn’t healthy or edifying, but like Kill Bill or Oldboy, it feels damn good.
Over-the-top and anxiety-producing, Wild Tales is ferocious, funny, and insanely electrifying, rocketing along with sleek, amoral charm. While revenge is a dish best served cold, Szifron argues that payback is more satisfying when it’s doled out in fiery, bloody, and outlandish doses. If you’re a citizen of the world, your jaw will drop, your head will shake, and you’ll marvel at the fertility of such imagination. It’s the very definition of a crowd-pleaser that’s out for blood.