As The Babadook proved last year, horror films needn’t adhere to the clichéd “all-knowing” trope that plagues contemporary cinema, with children welcoming an unfriendly entity with minimal fear or question. Cub‘s paradoxical subversion and adherence to this motif elicits an equally paradoxical response in the viewer.
Cub tells the story of a group of cub scouts camping in the woods. The pack leaders tell the urban – or country – legend of a mysterious adolescent werewolf called Kai, to scare and tease the young cub scouts. One child named Sam (Maurice Luijten) with a troubled past takes the story literally, and begins to see and interact with the malevolent Kai.
Belgian filmmaker Jonas Govaerts makes a very strong indie debut here; it is clear he is wholly familiar with the horror genre. The film has a shocking opening sequence, which is in equal parts frightening and exciting, setting up the mystery around the film’s antagonist: the monster. When the film introduces its scout characters, it continues to build upon this intelligence as it lures the audience into thinking this is going to be something different. It has the clichéd caricatures that are well-founded in many horror films, uses them to its advantage. These characters are included to make everything feel familiar so when everything does go awry, the haunting twists and creative death traps are shocking.
In light of the movie’s powerful use of these devices – notably in its attempts to explore the psychology of Sam and especially the effects of his tumultuous past without explicit content – it is a shame to end this review noting its tremendously disappointing climax. It’s clear the film wanted to be something more but its reliance on a simplified, wholly predictable conclusion undermines everything prior.
Cub makes great use of its crowd-funded budget by keeping its locale and set designs simple. The crisp cinematography by Nicholas Karakatsanis, the smart script and direction under Jonas Govaerts, and the brilliant performances from its young cast will delight horror fans searching for a film that is in both familiar and different. The viewer will, unfortunately, have to forgive its anti-climactic final act.
Cub is released nationwide on 31st July 2015.
Watch the trailer for Cub here: