Reviewed by Jay Hawkinson
Throw a pre-teen scout troop in the woods and tell them of a werewolf legend. What’s the worst that could happen? That’s the premise in Cub (Welp), the latest feature film by Belgian director Jonas Govaerts that filled the first midnight slot at Fantastic Fest. Don’t want to set inflated expectations, but this movie is an optimal midnighter; fast paced and entertaining, with enough scares to stay awake. Yeah, Cub is a bloody good time.
The werewolf is merely a ruse perpetuated by the older scout masters to scare the boys before their trip begins, which sets up an amusing callback after they reach their campsite. One of the scouts, Sam (Maurice Luijten), never buys the story. Sam knows the truth behind the myth is really the masked wild child called “Kai” living in the forest (as introduced in the prologue). Parentless, Sam is the outcast of the bunch; his obsession with Kai makes him an easy target to be bullied and teased by the other scouts. Sam is both voyeur and explorer, confused and conflicted over his place in the world. He views the camping excursion as a way to escape. Escape and find Kai.
Kai remains the true mystery of the movie. Living in a giant tree nest he’s more thief than beast but his constant growls, crippled gait and wooden mask make him menacing. Yet Kai is only the signpost to the evils lurking within the woods. The forest is laden with elaborate and deadly traps, a huge mousetrap, constructed in “Collector”-like fashion (one of these traps is revealed in the opening chase sequence). Who or what is creating these Rube Goldberg-like devices is the next question. Cub doesn’t waste any time by placing this group of 12 year-old boys and their three scoutmasters into this scenario before killing begins.
The film never shies away from what it is… a summer camp slasher. Cub borrows and repurposes several horror tropes when the bodies start piling up including picking up a token female character in an otherwise all male cast. However, it’s what the movie does with them that makes it exciting. Also, the pounding synth score gives additional juice to the terror. A little surprising the Cub scout pack hasn’t been used more often since it is so ideal for the easy setup. Greydon Clark’s 1980 sci-fi horror flick Without Warning only teases the idea but none have crafted an entire film around it until now. Cub delivers on that.
Following the slasher template, Cub is deliberately slow through the first half hour only providing the occasional hint of what’s to come. It’s when Sam and Kai finally meet that movie really turns up the intensity and the blood starts flowing. Shades of Lord of the Flies are cast over the characters as the film builds momentum. Worth noting there is a sequence of animal violence that may be tough to endure. Shows how far Govaerts is willing to take his characters as they transform. Familiar ground for sure but enough spice sprinkled in to keep it fresh.
Cub does not reinvent the subgenre but definitely punctuates it quite nicely, shining a light on what makes slasher flicks enjoyable. Kinetic and brutal, gory and graphic with comedic beats in-between. While not totally perfect, Cub gets a lot of things right having plenty fun along the way. Definitely recommended.