At the screening of Jonas Govaerts’ Cub, Dead by Dawn festival director Adele Hartley voiced her belief that the Belgians are making some of the most fucked up films out there. Cub isn’t exactly an argument against that. Where De Poel took a quietly-mounting thriller route, Cub takes the camping sub-genre on a comparatively bombastic journey of adventurous violence, proving that the woods are not quite done as a horror locale.
In it, a group of young scouts are taken deep into the woods by their three adolescent councillors. A lonely boy named Sam (Maurice Luijten) does his best to join in but finds the mystery of Kai, a local monster, far more intriguing.
After a sharp and excellently played intro the film goes on to tell one of the most enjoyable and inventive woods-related horrors in years. Cub stands out because it exploits a growing trend of violence towards children, making the violence far weightier but ensuring the children are more substantial characters. An interesting network of power plays between adults and children enforce the disturbing notion of cyclical violence to an often horrific finale.
Another key strength in the film is its eye for great images, the giant wicker wasps’ nest Kai calls home is an incredible sight, as is the filthy underground network of tunnels which come into play for the finale. Cub is a film about forgotten children and it makes its point with equally forgotten places. The dense underground is clearly an adult’s den, where the dream-like hive is almost defiantly a child’s. The camp has its own dangerous boundaries, ones that spell doom for those who cross them, but also those who live by them.
Jon Watts Clown surprised me with its graphic violence towards children, but Cub reserves its right until the perfect moment, when Govaerts orchestrates a moment of horror so casually you wonder if you missed something. But that’s the case with much of the film: information is drip-fed so that the audience is left to join up some of the dots, a rare trick in contemporary slashers, but a welcome one nonetheless. Sure the film wobbles in its last act, seemingly just to prove a laboured point, but there’s enough treats here to make it worth your while.
Jonas Govaerts manages to craft a sharp and original take on the woods-slasher in his impressive debut feature. Great kills, power plays, and a terrific performance from Luijten keep Cub on edge from start to finish.