Cub, a.k.a Welp, is a movie about a bevy of hormonal Cub Scouts, a creepy campfire tale, and a feral child. It’s an interesting premise that gives us some of the de rigur horror tropes without being a hollow rehash of cliches. The big question behind this partially Indiegogo-funded flick is this: with more than half the cast made up of minors, will Cub break that horror movie rule of the kids remaining alive and (relatively) unharmed?
In short order we are introduced to our cast of characters, including Sam, a troubled scout with a mysterious past, scoutmasters Kris and Peter, and Jasmijn, the cook. There’s also Peter’s dog, Zoltan. The leaders prime the kids with a tale of boy-turned-werewolf Kai who stalks the very forest they’re camping in. Most of the kids are dismissive, but Sam seems impressionable. Properly primed for a trip full of fun scares, the group sets off.
Now if there’s one thing I look for in a Cub Scout campsite it’s abandoned factories and barbed wire. Thankfully our group drives a little farther and opts to spend the night in a suicide forest instead.
This is not at all terrifying.
It’s a good thing Johnny Law is close by in case of trouble.
Cub’s first act is deliciously slow, giving the atmosphere time to percolate and the characters time to develop. It’s a slow slide into the realization that something is wrong in these woods. Sam is the only character to see the feral child and immediately assumes he’s the werewolf boy Kai. Anything Kai gets up to is blamed on the troubled Sam and does nothing to further Sam’s relationship with his fellow scouts or the jerkass scoutmaster Pete.
The eponymous cub is unsettling enough that it’s easy to forget he’s a kid. It’s an excellent performance by Gill Eeckelaert, whose ragged snarly breathing, lurching gait, and sinister mask all help make his wordless performance ooze dread.
No one wants to wake up to a drooling feral child in their tent. No one.
The killings in the second act are creative contrivances that make the audience wonder just who or what is really out in the forest. The movie spends some time tap dancing around the issue of killing Cub Scouts, never really committing itself. This is mildly disappointing because the Rube Goldberg nature of the deaths could have eased the tension with some humor. Also, if you’re going to put kids in mortal peril, don’t flinch.
It is here that I would like to take a moment to talk about poor Zoltan. Most of us know what’s going to happen when a dog shows up in a horror movie. Cub is no different, however it is brutal and extremely cruel. Be warned.
The latter half of the movie loses its footing somewhat and seems to have some trouble making up its mind about exactly where things should end. I, personally, would have enjoyed more of the Rube Goldberg deaths. The movie culminates in an interesting fight scene that doubles as a metaphor for one’s own humanity vs. the darker aspects of the self. Yeah, it gets deep in the end. At least for a few minutes.
Mostly, Cub is an enjoyable film that never completely lives up to its potential. What’s most impressive is that this is the freshman effort by director Jonas Govaerts in his first foray behind the camera. Hopefully it won’t be his last.
See you next week, dreadful darlings. -BB