Scout-camp horror Cub is no kiddie story
by Joseph Proimakis
- Jonas Govaerts’ scout camping trip turns into a full-blown massacre in this horror fest of a debut
Setting out to make a schoolyard horror film can be a tricky affair: at some point, you’ll have to start offing the children. Judging by the script co-written by him and fellow long-form first-timer Roel Mondelaers, director Jonas Govaerts seems to have had no such moral qualms on his feature debut, Cub [+see also:
film profile], which unfolds as a no-holds-barred Flemish take on the summer-camp slasher genre. Having world-premiered at Toronto, the movie went on to win the Best Director Award at Sitges and is now screening at the BFI London Film Festival.
Taking its time to set up its premise, Cub introduces a group of schoolchildren travelling through the Flemish woods towards their camping site. Always mindful of ensuring that a net of fear is in place to keep the children under control, camp leaders Chris (Titus de Voogdt) and Peter (Stef Aerts), along with their attractive blonde cook Jasmijn (Evelien Bosmans), turn the myth of Kai (Gill Eeckelaert) – a fearsome wildling dwelling in the woods – into the trip’s mantra. Reclusive rebel Sam (Maurice Luijten), however, seems unfazed.
Borrowing from a huge number of group-in-the-woods horror tropes and spit-shining them for proper re-use, the film sets about gradually revealing an arena of booby traps lying around the seemingly idyllic campsite, while Kai proves to be not only a flesh-and-blood, eminent threat, but quite the camouflage-savvy lurker to boot. Mindfully watching as the camp members’ dynamics reveal themselves before starting to ransack their tents, he creates just the right amount of havoc to frighten the grownups out of their wits.
Expertly lensed by Nicolas Karakatsanis (Bullhead [+see also:
interview: Bart Van Langendonck
interview: Michaël R. Roskam
film profile], The Drop), the film swiftly spirals into menacing darkness and total disarray, with peripheral players being picked off before the woods’ true menaces reveal themselves. A harrowing third act sets the springs of elaborate killing machines in motion, turning the affair into an addictive survival game. Govaerts’ camera never shies away from the ensuing horror, blood and gore, turning this initial slow-burner of a film into the exhilaratingly juicy slasher it promised to be.