Wednesday, 16 September 2015


I saw Cub A.K.A Welp nearly three months ago now. A gritty forest-based horror flick with a talented young cast, I think it speaks volumes that after covering the flood of films from Film4 FrightFest you've seen here among my reviews as of late, it has still left a strong impression on me.
Read on...

CUB A.K.A. WELP (2014)

Dir: Jonas Govaerts
Starring: Maurice Luijten, Evelien Bosmans, Titus De Voogdt, Stef Aerts, Jean-Michel Balthazar, Gill Eeckelaert, Jan Hammenecker

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil too much here but continue at your own risk.

Sam (Luijten) is a young lad who has had his issues but is now attempting to make friends among his Boy Scout troop. As Cub opens he is desperately dashing to the pick-up point from which he and his fellow scouts will depart for a camping trip, and judging by the reaction from the scout leaders: boorish bully Peter (Aerts) and upstanding Chris (De Voogdt), not to mention his sniggering fellow Cub Scouts, this is far from an isolated incident.
Finally the boys all board Peter's truck where they are joined by kind and pretty cook Jasmijn (Bosmans) and set off for the woods. On the way the scout leaders tell the boys a scary story about a half-human, half-wolf child by the name of Kai who has been known to feed on campers in the forest to which they are travelling — a story that has a big impact on the naive Sam.
Upon arriving at their destination the group finds a pair of yobs riding a quad bike around the field in which they're meant to camp. Rather than cause a scene, the scouts decide to head deeper into the woods. 
After bumping into chubby and comically inept local lawman Franju (Balthazar) they are given permission to relocate and set about their usual camping activities.
However, that night Sam encounters a terrifying feral boy (Eeckelaert) on the camp site, one wearing a rough mask crafted from bark, and believes that this is the real Kai. When Sam tries to tell the rest of his group they laugh at his latest imaginative tall tale.
What none of them realise is that the boy is the attack dog of a dangerous and reclusive poacher (Hammenecker), a man who has set several deadly traps in the woodland and one who does not take kindly to intruders entering his domain...

THE BEST BITS (mild spoiler warning): Cub is quite possibly the best looking film I've had the pleasure to review here at the House. The visuals are gorgeous, with some jaw-dropping cinematography from director of photography Nicolas Karakatsanis that really evokes a mood.
This is most apparent in the way in which the colours and brightness of the film dim and darken to match the mood and events on screen. At the onset of Cub the visuals are bright and hazy, the idyllic summer setting of a Spielberg-esque family friendly romp. The script echoes this, giving the talented young cast plenty of quips and jokes that would be at home in a coming of age 'dramedy' such as Stand By Me. It feels warm, breezy and, even with some pantomime villain bullying, it still feels safe. However, there are a couple of key sequences and moments at which the film descends into something decidedly more disturbing and dangerous.
By the time we reach the closing moments in a complex and claustrophobic warren of tunnels filled with rusty machinery, those blissful, fun and sunny opening scenes are long since forgotten and Cub has grown into an entirely different beast.
This is something for which the Belgian film board has found itself criticised — the film was given the 'all ages' classification that essentially means anybody can watch it. I can't imagine how many children will have been hastily rushed out of cinemas screaming and crying after seeing exactly how brutal Cub gets.
When you see that this is a film in which the vast majority of the characters are pre-teen children, you assume that the bodycount will be somewhat tempered. Maybe in a Hollywood big studio production that would be the case, but over on the continent our European friends are playing by an entirely different set of rules. This film gets damned bleak, and while I don't want to spoil the film I will say that it includes some very disturbing child and animal deaths. Despite initial appearances, this is not a horror movie for the weak of stomach.
Of course, pulling the rug out from under your audience only works if you've managed to get them invested in your characters. This is something that the talented Govaerts manages, helped in no small part by his fantastic cast. All of the youngsters are excellent actors (a real rarity in genre flicks) but Luijten really is the standout. His is a complicated character, one that needs to be both sympathetic and odd enough to disturb at times. Luijten nails this, playing Sam as both naively earnest and spookily suggestible at different points in the narrative. Govaerts spots the talent in his young star and as such is never afraid to shy away from the dark places that the character goes to along his complex arc.
Elsewhere the three camp leaders provide great support. Aerts's Peter is given the most to do, a malevolent preener getting off on the authority he has over his charges, and his character provides some decidedly shocking moments as the movie transforms into an out and out horror. Aerts's work is fantastic, making his character the most memorable of the supporting players by some margin.
De Voogdt plays the character that seems destined to take on the role of hero, a part in which he is well-suited and he gets to deliver some necessary exposition along the way. This is assured and reliable work.
As the sweet Jasmijn the very cute Bosmans is quite lovely and brings a breezy, natural charisma to the role. She may well be a name to watch out for in the future.
Elsewhere Balthazar provides some much needed levity (just the shots of bulky frame trundling along atop the tiniest of scooters had me in stitches) and he also delivers exposition in a naturalistic way. He's clearly a fine actor and really makes the most of his limited screen time.
On the other side of the coin, but no less impressive, we have our antagonists, Hammenecker and Eeckelaert. And what a monstrous pair they make!
Hammenecker channels Philippe Nahon's grimy killer from Haute Tension/Switchblade Romance combined with Tobin Bell's Jigsaw — yes, he's that nasty. As we get to see his unflinching sadism in the final act he takes the step up from decent boogeyman to full on hardcore villain. Hammenecker is great in the role, giving the character a dirty, rough and edgy feel and never overplays his villainy, adding an element of realism that makes him all the more frightening.
However, as frightening as Hammenecker is, it is the phenomenal Eeckelaert who has haunted me the most from this film. Underneath a legitimately frightening mask and layers of filth and muck, Eeckelaert's Kai is also without dialogue and relies on a series of animalistic grunts and growls, plus a range of feral, skittering movements to make an impression. And what an impression he makes — Kai is a bestial nightmare and Eeckelaert is to be applauded for his work.
It is these terrifying characters and their dark acts in a wholly uncompromising story (written by director Govaerts and Roel Mondelaers) that is, ultimately, the biggest strength of the film. It is bleak, heart-wrenchingly so, and the nihilistic beats it hits as it reaches its gut-punch of an ending are incredibly haunting. Forget what you think you know when you start watching this film — Cub is a genuine horror film.

THE WORST BITS (mild spoiler warning): First off, for the anti-subtitles brigade, the dialogue in Cub is delivered in Flemish. Don't like to read during a film? Keep walking, just be aware that you're missing out on a seriously messed up little film as you do.
As much as I've praised the darkness of Cub's storyline, it will certainly be a little too much for some. People who are sensitive to cruelty against animals or children (which I should hope is most of you) will find this makes for decidedly uncomfortable viewing. However, it wasn't the bleakness of the writing that got to me so much as the considerable gaps in the story.
The ending is undoubtedly hard-hitting, but it feels rushed and, even with the various hints scattered throughout the story that something is going on with our main protagonist, some of the actions of characters that until then have been entirely sympathetic jar somewhat. I get that the overall message behind the film seems to be that when pushed to the brink, all people have it within them to fight back like cornered animals, but to have several characters flip-flop like they do seems a bit heavy-handed.
This wasn't helped by the fact that a pretty important piece of backstory (that regarding Sam's family) is often mentioned as important but never actually explained. I'm not one of these who needs every single piece of information served up to me in a neat little bow, in fact I love a film that leaves elements open to the viewer's interpretation, however if a plot point is going to prove to be significant I would have liked a little more than 'something terrible happened to Sam's family'. Oh well. 
I'm afraid this wasn't the only area in which the writing felt a little underdeveloped. As great as the young actors were, several of them were pretty much faceless red-shirts with no real characters as such. Outside of 'bullying kid', 'bigger bullying kid' and 'kid who's sort of Sam's friend', there was not much else to see, even though there are lots of kids milling around.
I know that not everybody can be given a compelling and intricate arc, but considering how much material the adult characters were given it would have been nice to see the children given a little more to work with.
Finally we're once again given the horror staple of nigh-on indestructible antagonists. Surviving the sorts of injury that would leave a regular man comatose works well enough if you're dealing with semi-supernatural slashers such as the likes of Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers but can seem a little out of place in more realistic fare such as this.

THE VERDICT: Wow, what a ride Cub is! I loved the way in which it deliberately misleads with its fun and sunny opening before snaring us in a grimly desperate trap, much like its deadly and relentless poacher. Cub looks INCREDIBLE, the cast are excellent and, a few plot missteps aside, the sheer nastiness and creepy, cold-blooded scariness of the film is easily enough for me to recommend the film to you all.
Luckily, you can check it out right now by buying the DVD at Amazon here!

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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