What’s camping in the woods without a great horror story to tell by the campfire? When a pair of scout leaders attempt to scare their troop with a tale of a werewolf boy, named Kai, living in the very area they’ve set up camp, they get more than they bargained for when imaginative, twelve year old Sam actually encounters a feral masked boy in the thickets. With quiet Sam often the target of bullying amongst his fellow scouts and one of the scout leaders, an unlikely bond forms between himself and the savage Kai, leading to a deadly friendship. Especially when Kai’s psychotic father comes to play.
In Jonas Govaerts’ feature length directorial debut, it’s clear that this Belgian thriller also serves as a love letter to the genre. He pays homage to his favorite genre films with subtle Easter eggs. Dario Argento’s Suspiria receives a nod when a scout leader’s ringtone plays the theme from the movie. The campers pass by the village of “Casselroque,” a nod to Stephen King’s Castle Rock, Maine, en route to their destination. Govaerts utilizes plenty of familiar tropes into his film as well.
As a clear horror fan, Govaerts makes ballsy choices, particularly when it comes to the taboo of killing animals and children. One scene features the drawn out killing of an animal, so squeamish animal lovers beware. As uncomfortable as this scene is to watch, it’s necessary to the development of the story and avoids feeling gratuitous. This also sets the precedence early that no one is safe, making it difficult to discern who’s on the chopping block save for the obvious stereotypes.
Kai’s homicidal father’s chosen means of hunting prey feels apropos to the setting; he sets up lethal traps in the woods then dispatches with his catch. The filmmakers sought funding, via Indiegogo, in 2013 to bolster their budget to make the traps as realistic as possible. They succeeded; the traps do contribute to the more thrilling moments in the film.
While the violence and pace picks up dramatically in the second half, the story suffers for it. The scout leaders’ hint numerous times at Sam’s tragic past, making his dangerous encounters with Kai all the more intriguing. The camp dynamics and hierarchy also engage, but all of this is dropped in favor of the climatic murder spree enacted by Kai’s father. While a spectacle to watch, major plot threads feel forgotten. By the time the end credits roll, many important questions still linger.
Technically, Cub stands out with excellent make-up design and a beautiful set. Shot mostly outdoors, the booby traps are well thought out and executed in exhilarating, savage fashion. While the nihilism of the final act feels more akin to the brutality that French horror is known for, it forgoes all of the soul that the story had been building prior. The character arcs become left by the wayside in favor of a higher body count, which causes certain character choices to feel unearned. Overall a compelling camp horror flick that falls just short of becoming something truly memorable.
Rating: 6 out of 10
About the Author
Meagan Navarro is a blogger from Houston, TX. She fell in love with monsters at age four after being exposed to them via Ghostbusters, and her passion grew into an obsession for all things horror and Halloween (which is the entire month of October, as far as she’s concerned). Meagan also loves traveling and chocolate.