Cub [Welp] (2014)

AUGUST 25, 2015


Hurrah! I haven't gone soft! If you've read the majority of my recent reviews, you'd know that I get worked up about dead kids/bad parents/killer kids/etc type material in my horror movies now that I have a child of my own, but Cub played just as well to me as it would have two years ago. The plot is about a killer lurking around where a cub scout troop had set up their camp in the woods, and damned if I didn't think at one point "I hope they have the balls to kill at least one of these little kids!" That's the guy I used to be! Welcome back, unfeeling asshole!

As for my "prayers", they were answered, though I won't go into anything specific like a number. Being that it's a slasher film you know that the six adults are goners (well, five of them - more on that soon), and that's just enough to satisfy bloodthirsty slasher fans such as myself, especially since it's only 84 minutes long and it's not like we're being barraged by the things every week like in the early 80s. But fear not, if you want to think about the reality of the world Jonas Govaerts (and co-writer Roel Mondelaers) created here, some parents will be getting sad phone calls about their 12-ish sons. It may not be as gruesome as Weird Al's "Nature Trail To Hell" ("There's a homicidal maniac who finds a cub scout troop/And he hacks up two or three in every scene!") but my jaw dropped at one point, so that should count for something.

I'm not sure WHY it didn't get under my skin, though I suspect it has something to do with the anonymity of the kids. We really only get to know a few of them (there's about a dozen), with the others just sort of there in group scenes and given identities in throwaway dialogue (like a game of "Simon Says" when a couple of them are disqualified by name). And we spend most of our time with one of them, Sam, introduced as the obligatory quiet kid who didn't really want to be there and of course the only one to notice something is wrong. See, the scout leaders (both 20ish guys) tell a story of Kai, a werewolf boy who haunts the woods and will get you if you're bad - standard boogeyman stuff invented to keep the impressionable kids in line. But as it turns out, there really IS a Kai (or at least, someone who fits the "made up" description), and he's the one stealing their food and such, but of course no one believes Sam - they just think it's him telling stories to cover his own crimes.

But there are some twists to this seemingly traditional "Boy Who Cried Wolf" scenario, played against the backdrop of a standard (but well-done) woods-based slasher movie. Before long we discover that there's a full grown, typically silent and hulking killer in the area as well, operating not unlike Jason in the Platinum Dunes remake: he's got a lair, as well as traps set up around the woods that provide a hefty chunk of the movie's kill scenes. I particularly liked the one where setting off the trap resulted in an arrow firing into a hornet's nest, and continuing on to impale a victim, nest now pinned to him. We can all agree that CGI should appear as often in slasher movie kill scenes as nudity in a kiddie flick, but this is the rare exception where I had no problem with it - the CGI hornets won't win any awards, but it's being used for a fun/inventive kill that couldn't be done traditionally. They go practical where it counts (blood) and that's what matters most.

So then you have to ask yourself if the killer and "Kai" are working together, or if the latter is actually just some innocent and hungry feral kid. As Sam takes a liking to him (and Kai later protects him from an animal attack) you will also start to wonder if Sam will live up to his reputation as a weirdo, or find a way to get through to his fellow scouts who mostly hate him and save the day. In other words, there's more going on on a narrative level than you might expect from a movie that involves a killer in the woods, more than making up for its few missteps - such as a bizarre omission that I had to double check (via Twitter) to make sure I hadn't just dozed off or gotten a glitched disc or something. Early on we meet two local assholes who become instant enemies of our two hero scout leaders, but while one of them gets his obligatory death (the hornets, in fact), the other just disappears. I kept waiting for him to show up looking for his brother, and then kept assuming Sam or someone would stumble across his body, but that moment never came. Two of the cub scouts also basically vanish after a close call with death, which irked me even more than the asshole guy's unceremonious exit. It'd be like if Lynda and Bob disappeared from Halloween after we saw Michael watching them fool around on the couch.

Then again, this is a first time feature from a guy who used indiegogo to fund the film (they're listed at the top along with the regular production companies), so just being watchable already puts him above par for the course. That it's actually quite good and a fine modern slasher (one of the best I've seen since Cold Prey, in fact - not a huge number of options, I know, but still) is damn laudable. The Blu-ray has some bonus features, including a short film and a music video, but some are actually relevant to the film. A pair of deleted scenes is probably the most intriguing, particularly the first which shows a glimpse of Sam's seemingly very normal home life, so I'm glad they cut it as it makes him more of an enigma. The other supplement worth a look is a breakdown of the VFX, which were mostly used to add depth to the shots (more trees, mountains, etc) but you'll probably be surprised to discover the use of CGI in another shot. It's a reminder of how the knee-jerk reaction to visual FX is a silly one - it's a tool that should be used invisibly (or to the best of current abilities for things that can't be achieved in any other way), and thus it's nothing to shit on in general.

I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that the slasher movie will never be as dominant as it once was, but as long as we keep getting the occasional gem like this, it makes up for the reduction. Sort of like your favorite band putting out an album - as much as you might love it, there's always that sort of sad feeling that it'll be 2-3 years before they make another. The Hollywood attempts to revive it are non-existent; not counting sequels to proven franchises (and even that doesn't always work out - see Scream 4) the last wide release original slasher that I can think of was My Soul To Take, which barely counts (more traditional - you have to go back to 2006 with See No Evil). It's the little indies and foreign films like this and Stage Fright that are keeping the genre alive for lifers like me, and I personally thank filmmakers like Govaerts for fighting the good fight.

What say you?

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