On the surface, a horror film involving boy scouts on a camping trip gone wrong might seem mundane. As slasher films are a dime a dozen, it really takes some effort and creativity to stand out from the herd. But this little Belgian horror film has more than a trick or two up its sleeve to keep things interesting, and there’s a lot of effort put into making an already threadbare concept something entirely thrilling. Cub is effective as both a thriller and a horror film, but it’s because it’s built more like the former that it succeeds so well as the latter.
During their camping trip, a group of young scouts are told that a feral boy named Kai lurks in the woods. It’s a tactic to frighten them, but also add some mystery to the outing. One of the boys soon learns that Kai is real, but he’s also really deadly. And so begins the hunt…yet that’s just half of the story. For a seemingly simple film, there’s a full-bodied production value that adds real gravity to the plot.
Cub is the feature-length debut from Belgian director Jonas Govaerts who is known mostly for his short films and television work. It’s not only well shot, and staged, but of the minimal elements, Govaerts foreshadows, layers, and builds ever so purposefully. It might be his first film, but he knows what he’s doing. It seems to take a cue from something like Cabin In the Woods – give us something we might expect, but turn it just enough to become something incredibly different and fresh. Even the first two minutes are enough to hook you.
Govaerts takes very dissimilar concepts (a boy scout adventure and extreme horror) and offers a quality story on the framework of what is essentially a genre film. Cub succeeds on a visual level too, but it’s complimented by the engaging (and logical) story which fleshes out its characters in a strong narrative arc. Topping things off, Cub sports an impressive and eerie score from Steve Moore. The music, very much inspired by great synth scores of the ’80s, plays a large part in creating atmosphere and adds invaluable depth to the story.
It all works really well because there’s a complexity to the story that is compounded by how each of the individual elements are executed. It’s not a straight up hack-n-slash just for the hell of it. There’s a lot of purpose to the dialog, and the interactions between characters. There could have been more to the dynamic mythology of Kai but Cub still gets the job done with some highly effective pacing, scares and kills. Whether he continues to make films in his native country, or gets a shot at a big Hollywood film, Jonas Govaerts is one to watch. It’s a great film to kick off the 10th annual Fantastic Fest.