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by Jay Seaver

"Fine woodsy horror - scout's honor."
5 stars

SCREENED AT FANTASTIC FEST 2014: "Cub" (or "Welp", as it is called in its native Belgium) initially seems premised on the sort of attitude that makes those who aren't into horror movies rightfully squeamish: That if killing college kids who go out into the woods doesn't get a rise out of the audience any more, maybe killing cub scouts will. The good news in this case is twofold: One, filmmaker Jonas Govaerts does have more on his mind than cheap exploitation when all is said and done; and two, he and co-writer Roel Mondeaers are coming up with great horror movie bits from minute one.

Speaking of minute one, the newest member of an Antwerp cub count troop, Sam (Maurice Luijten), is running late for the camping trip, which means lots of push-ups and such, as he is far from the favorite of the older troop leaders, Baloo (Sef Aerts) and Chris (Titus De Voogdt), with Baloo and some of the other kids particularly seeming to have it in for him. Only his friend Dries and Baloo's girlfriend Jasmijn (Evelien Bosmans) seem to care for him at all. But when a couple of local punks racing their go-kart around the planned campsite sends the troop deeper into the woods than they had planned... Well, could there actually be something to those stories about werewolf boy Kai that Chris and Baloo were telling to make things more exciting?

Well, there's something; we see Kai in the first shot. The fun thing about that shot is that while it seems to give a lot of the game away - not just that there is a kid who is at the very least feral in the area, but that there are some impressively elaborate mechanics going on as well. It may give too much away - the desire to start the movie off with an action beat (and presumably not build to something most will have already seen on the poster or in the trailer) can under cut a later reveal - but I don't think that's necessarily the case; by the time the film circles around to those images being particularly relevant, the audience should have enough to occupy their minds that they're not just waiting impatiently.

For example, the deathtraps that are set up throughout the film are a welcome distraction. They are, in fact, some of the most ingenious I've seen in a horror movie in some time, mechanical, creative, and with an eye toward both looking good and seeming effective. The black comedy portion of these things is vital, and the filmmakers here manage the important trick of having that moment that elicits a guilty laugh just before something that will make you cringe happens. Govaerts and company tie them together in a neat way that both gives the film a different environment to play in but doesn't make the villain too omniscient.

For all that it's having fun with its mayhem, what elevates Cub a bit over other slasher movies is arguably that it can make find a way to make its cartoon violence and the more realistic thing coexist. There's a scene cruel and reality-based enough that a certain chunk of the audience will just hate it and check out of the movie in the middle, but I think it underscores that the crap Sam takes (which crosses the line from teasing to outright bullying) is important, and not just a bit of backstory erected that makes his eventual heroics more impressive. That's pretty important, because having this movie just be violence involving kids would be ugly and exploitative, but the movie earns it.

It's a lot to put on newcomer Maurice Luijten, but he handles it quite well. We like Sam pretty quick, and Luijten doesn't overdo it when Sam is being treated like crud. Troubled kids often internalize things, and while that may seem he has to do less, he's reliably excellent when things have to come out. The older ones are a nice trio as well: Stef Aerts nails the guy who is a lot of fun until he decides you are going to be the target, while Titus De Voogdt is similarly pretty square-on as the leader who seems to have his heart in the right place but turns a blind eye too often. Evelien Bosmans has does a nice job of bringing some maturity out from under an often goofy exterior.

I do think that in trying to make its point (pun kind of intended), the film rushes and stretches things a bit in the end, but even then, I think "Cub' deserves a fair amount of credit for aiming higher than "one last jolt, whether it makes any sort of sense or not". It's still a horror movie built around creative dispatching of characters at heart, but there is certainly at least an attempt to make it mean something.

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originally posted: 09/20/14 01:53:28
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 London Film Festival For more in the 2014 London Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2014 Fantastic Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Nashville Film Festival For more in the 2015 Nashville Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 18-Aug-2015

  31-Jul-2015 (15)
  DVD: 03-Aug-2015


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