Review: CUB (2014){0}

Be Prepared. Be Very Prepared.

One would have a hard time getting a horror movie like Cub (aka Welp) produced in the United States. “Violence involving children” is a pretty touchy subject anywhere, obviously, but given how many American children actually KILL people, producers are predictably cautious about films in which pre-teens dole out – not to mention suffer – grievous bodily harm. Fortunately, some nations still know how to separate art from reality, which means if a Belgian filmmaker wants to make a slasher flick about a cub scout troop, well, he actually can.

Jonas Govaerts’ debut feature earns strong points in the “normal” areas of horror flick filmmaking – in that it features a novel premise, several good actors, a handful of unexpected surprises, and a very appealing sense of doom, gloom, and isolation – but it’s also noteworthy in that it gives us something we don’t see too often: kids in serious peril – and kids fighting back. In the US, Cub would hit the screen feeling like The Goonies Meet Jason; in Belgium, the movie is an intense and engaging thriller that works a lot harder than just “tossing young characters in front of a sharp object.”

Plot-wise, all one needs to know is that three scout leaders – practically kids themselves in many ways – lead a raucous group of cub scouts deep into the woods; they butt heads with some locals; they drive through an abandoned factory; they share a creepy legend about a rash of unsolved murders… basic slasher movie stuff, only here it’s presented with an amusing sense of character and a creepy sense of foreboding doom. (That old factory really is creepy!)

Once the troop finally settles on a campsite, we’re well aware that the misfit of the group, Sam, is going to stumble across something horrific – and that nobody will believe him. Then the sun goes down and we start with all the stalking, the slashing, the chasing, and escaping. Not only does Sam have to contend with unfriendly scouts and disapproving troop leaders; he’s now tracking feral kids, avoiding huge men with knives, and picking his way through a forest filled with nasty traps.

Backed by a great score and a visual sensibility that captures both the natural beauty of the location and the more… disturbing images that follow, Cub feels a bit like 15 slasher movies you’ve already seen, but actually ends up being a rather novel, unpredictable, and insane little horror flick of its very own. Cub may take a while to get rolling, and there are one or two plot holes that detract from the final payoffs, but there’s more than enough style, energy, and affection for the genre to make me excited for Mr. Govaerts next foray into 1980s-style horror cinema.

Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)