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Jason Widgington [Celluloid 07.29.15] Belgium horror

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a bunch of people head out into the woods to set up camp, only to be frightened by the inevitable spooky campfire stories before they start actually being brutally murdered by some sick and twisted freak. Yep, you guessed it: your typical slasher flick.

With Cub ("Welp"), Belgian director Jonas Govaerts’ debut feature, there is at least an effort to up-the-ante and inject a bit of originality into the sub-genre. But, is it effective enough to make Cub worth watching?

Sam (Maurice Luijten, looking like a young River Phoenix in Stand By Me) is a troubled boy out on a weekend camping trip with his scout troop and three counselors. His troop mates – even one of the counselors – tease and taunt him, and after being told the story of Kai (ferociously portrayed by Gill Eeckelaert), a feral boy who lives in the forest and turns into a ravenous werewolf at night, it’s no surprise that nobody believes Sam when he reports having seen Kai in the woods. But is Kai real? And once the killing starts, is Kai the one responsible?

After a promising and intense – and deliberately misleading – pre-opening credits sequence, Govaerts takes too long to set up and actually get to what the audience is there for: creative and bloody murder set pieces. To the director’s credit, once these do start, the audience is treated to kill after gory kill featuring some excellently-shot and quite elaborate and original booby traps set up throughout the woods by the killer. This isn’t your standard machete-wielding madman, which makes for some unpredictable ways to die. That being said, those who are easily upset or offended may have a hard time with Cub, because anybody and everybody – and their best friend (wink, wink) – are fair game, including barely pubescent children.

The Cub Scout aesthetic is not out of place here, as Kai is kind of like what Kipling’s Mowgli would be if he weren’t adopted and raised by the jungle animals as one of their own, instead left to fend for himself. Unfortunately, given the ample amount of set up time used in the first half of the film, the how and why of Kai’s story remain a mystery, even though he is presented as a somewhat misunderstood character.

The ending itself leaves a couple of open questions as well, but perhaps that was by design, in the hopes of possibly getting a sequel made.

In an effort to subvert the tropes of the slasher flick, with Cub Govaerts has actually managed to perpetuate a couple of them, delivering a mixed bag of a promising start, a disappointing and too-long middle, and a delightfully gooey third act before an ultimately empty denouement. That being said, for fans of slashers, there are worse ways you can spend 84 minutes than to join this jamboree.

Recommended Release: The Troop (a Novel)

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