UK Release Date: 31st July 2015
Runtime: 84 minutes
Director: Jonas Govaerts
Writer: Jonas Govaerts, Roel Mondelaers
Starring: Maurice Luijten, Gill Eeckelaert, Titus De Voogdt, Stef Aerts, Evelien Bosmans, Jan Hammenecker
Synopsis: A troubled young boy scout, spooked by the scary stories told by his two troupe leaders, discovers a feral child lurking in the woods.
One of the surprise highlights of my time at last year’s London Film Festival was Jonas Govaerts’ Belgian scout camp horror Cub – known as Welp in its native country. The film is Govaerts’ debut feature and showcases a filmmaker with a genuine love of genre cinema and a fierce directorial style. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch, but it certainly packs bite.
Sam (Maurice Luijten) is the runt of his scout troupe, constantly picked on by aggressive scoutmaster Peter (Stef Aerts). Led by Peter’s more level-headed colleague Kris (Titus De Voogdt) and pretty young girl Jasmijn (Evelien Bosmans), the group head to a secluded part of the woods. The leaders terrify the youngsters with tales of a feral child who lurks the forest in werewolf form, but that boy (Gil Eeckelaert) proves to be more real than anyone thought.
The first thing that stands out about Cub is its obvious reverence for the horror genre. Writer-director Govaerts fills his film not with explicit references to other works, but nods to genre history, whether it’s the 80s-inspired synth score or the scout camp setting familiar to Friday the 13th devotees. This is a film made by horror fans, for horror fans and is all the better as a result of that.
| "I just wanted to know what happened in the woods."
There’s an efficient nastiness to Cub as well. It is content to build its narrative slowly for the first half of its running time, but it lets rip in the third act with a gruesome finale. There is a touch of torture porn to the final moments and there’s an act of animal cruelty that is genuinely shocking, but this mostly isn’t a film that goes for the cheap jolt. It’s strange and atmospheric instead.
The young cast are terrific across the board. Maurice Luijten is captivating in the lead and, given this is his first acting job, it’s remarkable how well he portrays his complex young character. Aerts and De Voodgt have a nice good cop-bad cop chemistry as the two scout leaders and Eeckelaert is otherworldly in the best way as feral youngster Kai.
Thematically, Cub works as an interesting study on the fine line between human and beast. As Sam bonds with Kai, there’s a real sense of kinship there that shows just how close humanity is to animalistic instincts at any moment. The theme is further teased out in the turmoil of several of the characters who are constantly toeing the line between being a rational human being and an impulsive, primitive monster.
Govaerts shows an intriguing desire to subvert the norms of the genre and teases a more interesting type of threat in the vein of The Cabin in the Woods. There’s a little too much ambiguity in the third act, with several threads left hanging that probably should have been tied up more neatly. As much as the bloodshed of the final act, which leads to a killer plot twist, is entertaining, it could’ve done with doing just a little more narrative lifting.
| "Treetops bow down to listen in."
There are plenty of rough edges to Cub, but it serves as an effective calling card for Govaerts as he attempts to make his name in big screen horror. The film should find a new life on streaming platforms and certainly deserves to achieve a wide audience outside of the festival circuit on which it made its name. It might not always work, but it’s a nasty chiller that provides a fitting homage to the 80s movies it so clearly loves.
Pop or Poop?
Cub is an imperfect debut movie for Jonas Govaerts, but one that packs in plenty of scares and showcases a real flair for horror direction.
The young cast are stellar, particularly given the emotional complexity they are asked to portray by the clever, subversive script.
Parts of the finale lose their way and there are aspects of the story that could’ve done with a bit more polish, but this definitely feels like the arrival of a bold new voice in cinematic terror.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.