Cub

Belgium. Directed by Jonas Govaerts, 2014. Starring Maurice Luijten, Evelien Bosmans, Titus De Voogdt, Stef Aerts, Jan Hammenecker, Gill Eeckelaert. 84 minutes. In Dutch, with English subtitles. 7/10

Camping trips rarely turn out well in horror movies, even if the happy campers are a troop of Belgian Cub Scouts on a rural forest adventure. Pack leaders Kris (Stef Aerts) and Peter (Titus De Voogdt) spin a campfire tale about the werewolf supposedly haunting the woods…but misfit Sam (Maurice Luijten) encounters a masked feral child (Gill Eeckelaert) living in a treehouse, convincing him the werewolf is real. The truth is far stranger: the child is the ward of a sadistic poacher (Jan Hammenecker) who has rigged the forest with elaborate death-traps and hunts those who trespass on his territory…

Directed and co-written by Jonas Govaerts, Cub uses the standard slasher-movie template, but is by no means a typical entry in the subgenre. Govaerts’s take is darker, more interested in introspection, less interested in entertaining the audience through elaborate kill sequences. By no stretch of the imagination does it qualify as a psychological thriller, but its focus on the troubled Sam and his difficult relationships with his fellow scouts–even the adults bully him, to an extent–gives the character a bit of depth. Only a bit, mind you; I wanted to sympathize with him more, to understand him better. But it’s still more depth than the average modern slasher.

Govaerts also plays up suspense and atmosphere. Despite some missteps in the story structure, including a flash-forward prologue (where the film starts on a scene that occurs very late in the story, and then flashes back to show how we got to this point) it doesn’t really earn, the filmmaker keeps the pace steady and strong, maintaining the audience’s interest throughout. Fantastic location work gives the forest its own distinct character, although it doesn’t seem quite as vast as it should–it seems that characters get from place to place far too quickly.

The ensemble is uniformly strong with Eeckelaert and Hammenecker standing out in particular. The former sells his “feral child” act to the hilt without going over the top, while the latter reaps churning menace from his subdued, minimalist performance.

There are some other issues I have with the film. For example, the sole female character, camp cook and Peter’s girlfriend Jasmijn, doesn’t have a whole lot to do despite a spirited performance from Evelien Bosmans. Some of the “winking-at-the-audience” moments call too much attention to themselves (a minor character’s mobile ringtone turns out to be the opening theme from Suspiria). Stuff like that.

Overall, Cub is a strong film that has much to offer horror fans of all stripes, not just fans of the slasher subgenre.

CUB poster.

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