LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2014 | CUB (WELP)

CUB

CUB is a horror adventure in which a young imaginative twelve-year-old boy named Sam heads off to camp with his Cub Scouts pack, leaders Peter and Chris and quartermaster Yasmin. As Sam gets more and more isolated from the other scouts, he becomes convinced a terrible fate awaits them…

Director: Jonas Govarts Writer(S) Jonas Govarts, Roel Mondelaers DOP: Nicolas Karakatsanis Cast: Maurice Luijten, Stef Aerts, Titus De Voogdt, Gill Eeckelaert.

Jonas Govaerts debut feature is a combination of horror, black comedy and cheap thrills, and it’s really good. 

Cub (aka Welp in its native Belgian moniker) follows a group of cub scouts and their leaders during an ominous camping trip in the deep dark woods. At its centre is Sam (Maurice Luijten), the outcast, boy-quandary who harbours a pen knife and grim past. As a protagonist he’s unreadable; bullied by his peers and antagonised by the second-in-command cub leader Peter (Stef Aerts), it’s expected that everyone who’s wronged Sam, and finds themselves in his immediate vicinity for the next hour or so – isn’t going to fare well by the movie’s end.

Before setting off on their team building escapade the Cub leaders, led by Chris (Titus De Voogdt), tease the boys with the mysterious story of ‘Kai’ – a feral boy who transforms into a werewolf and roams the woods at night. Initially it’s funny, the boys are suitably spooked but determined to brave the trip, but for Sam it’s more than a story. On route to the camp he sees something but, go figure, no one believes him. When Sam discovers Kai’s nest and comes face to face with the wild child himself, a moment of mutual empathy is established. Essentially they are both loners, with no family  (Sam is a foster child) so an unspoken bond is realised, but to the detriment of Sam and the rest of his camp.

A series of odd things start to happen: possessions go missing, incoherent dreams and a few unfortunate stumbles upon numerous booby traps –  it’s gruesome, dark, and at times ludicrous.

Director Govaerts himself quoted Guillermo Del Toro as an inspiration and  that definitely comes through when looking at the physicality and otherworldly performance of Kai ( superb Gill Eeckelaert). Fundamentally it lends itself more to the horror films of the late 70s and 80s –  think John Carpenter – and, if we’re being pedantic, a host of other films by revered genre filmmakers. What Govaerts is careful not to do, is laden the audience with too much backlog or reasonings – we never find out what happened to Sam’s family; why the wood is haunted – or even who Kai is/was. Like Sam in the film we’re given the opportunity to allow the our imaginations to go wild. 

Aside from the brilliant young cast of cub scouts, Maurice Luijeten alone brings a wonderful dark and perturbed curiosity to Sam; he manages to move smoothly between expressions of innocence and sinister, it’s mainly disconcerting, and rightly so – because we’re never really allowed to get inside Sam’s head. So we can never really trust him.  That’s an important feat for someone who is in almost every scene.

Govaerts has created something pretty good here, granted it’s nothing new, it’s even a little predictable –  set in a forest, focusing on the nostalgic familiarity of summer camps, dated activity clubs and hearing scary stories that consume young minds – but it’s thrilling and it contains plenty of blood, forest chases,  twisted revelations and loose threads to keep you reeling till the credits roll.

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