I finally got around to seeing Cub (aka Welp – Belgium 2014). I say “finally”, because I’ve been hearing good things about it since it hit the U.S. festival circuit. Hell, Jay H even has a review of it at Bloody Disgusting. So, it’s been on my “to watch” list for a while. All I knew about it going in though was that it featured a cub scout type troupe of kids in the woods and that one of the cardinal rules of cinematic storytelling was broken. (more on that later) I didn’t even know it was a non-U.S. made film until I started watching the damn thing. When I saw it was Belgi…um…Holy shit! I have no idea what the word for people or goods from Belgium is. Belgish? Anyway, when I saw it was from there I immediately thought of Calvaire, which is also Belgish, but probably has nothing at all to do with Cub. I like Calvaire, so everything from Belgium must be good! (is that mildly xenophobic of me?) This movie served to support my newly acquired stereotype. (you are welcome to use that stereotype to quickly assess Belgish stuff that you come across. it should save you a lot of time)
The plot seems simple at first. The children are told by their 20-something scout leaders that there have been reports of a werewolf kid that roams the woods where they will be camping. Oh, I see where this is going! They pick up the film’s sole female character and get to the campsite only to run into some local douchebags. OK, so maybe a Hostel type of thing then? They move farther into the woods, where we (the viewers) catch a glimpse of what looks like a feral, possibly lycanthropic, boy. Oh shit! That scout leader’s story wasn’t a misdirect? They set up camp and the local constable (that’s probably the Belgish term for cop) visits them to warn them that this forest has a rich history of people hanging themselves from the trees. (Like every forest in Japan if one of my other stereotypes is correct.) Soooo… a ghost movie? Constable then leaves and comes across a man who looks pretty damn homicidal. Wait. It’s a slasher? What is this damn movie about? And then there are the Rube Goldberg-ian murder traps. I give up. Well, rest assured. All of the threads are neatly braided together to make a beautiful movie-braid. And by beautiful, I mean, fucking brutal. This movie pushes its characters and the viewers to the edge of what we’ve all agreed upon as acceptable “safe” fare. It then kicks us over that edge and pisses down the cliffside after us. (the agreement is unspoken of course. we can’t talk to movies yet) What do I mean by that? Well, let’s just say that if it were a major studio film, it would have had a MUCH LOWER body count. See below for a specific example.
Skip this paragraph for a spoiler free review. Keep reading for a very small spoiler. (actually, it might not even qualify as a spoiler at all. i don’t claim to know what triggers spoiler rage) OK. Are you still with me? Then I’ll just come right out and say it – a dog gets killed. There. That wasn’t too bad, was it? We’ve come to believe that dogs are the sacred cows (another stereotype?) of film. Nobody kills a dog. You’d have to be John Fucking Carpenter making an iconic, seminal slasher film to have that much nerve. It’s a huge gamble. It pushes the viewer into a place that feels uncomfortable beyond the expected discomfort of seeing people murdered for our entertainment. This film not only has the audacity to do this, but pushes beyond even that. I found myself thinking, “They’re not going to do that are they?” at a few points in the film. And every time, they did.
Bonus review content (you’re welcome): I don’t plan to write much about scores (music, not sports) here unless they are extra special. This is one of those times. The synth heavy score to Cub is beautiful. It matches the tone perfectly and has a great familiar feel to it. It elicits nostalgia for Carpenter’s scores without being as sparse. Or Argento’s without being as Goblin. Steve Moore (of Zombi) has created something that compliments the film perfectly while being beautiful enough to make me want to buy it and listen to it on its own. For me, that’s remarkable.
THE FINAL CUT: Cub is brutal in its violence and its depiction of humanity. It’s bleak and nasty and you’re not going to find a more visceral, horrific Belgish movie. (as far as I know.) In short, if you’re reading this, you’ll love it. It definitely lived up to the buzzzzzzz. (that’s a bee reference for those who have already seen it)