They had their heyday in the 80s, became decidedly less cool in the 90s, and have in recent years fallen completely off the map and been mostly replaced by tales of the paranormal. I’m of course talking about slasher films, perhaps the single most beloved sub-genre of horror. But they’re seemingly set to make a big time comeback on the scene, and brand new Belgian film Cub is at the forefront of the revival.
The feature debut of Jonas Govaerts, Cub centers on a group of young cub scouts who head out into the woods for a camping trip. As their leaders warn them in advance, there’s allegedly a strange creature who calls the woods home, and 12-year-old scout Sam seems eager to have an encounter with the monster. Once he comes face-to-face with the legend, he realizes the stories are indeed true.
I don’t think anyone would argue against Cub being classified as a summer camp slasher film, because at the end of the day that’s very much what it is. But as much as he pays tribute to the classics – keep your eyes and ears peeled for various references – Govaerts also strays from the sub-genre’s time-worn template in a very refreshing way, telling a story that isn’t quite the one you’re expecting it to be.
Immediately setting itself apart from the pack right out of the gate, given the fact that young children are the main characters rather than the usual cast of teens, Cub isn’t so much a body count film as it is a twisted coming-of-age tale that takes place within the confines of a slasher flick. Those looking for numerous acts of violence may be disappointed, but the beauty of this one is that it dares to be different.
More than anything, Cub is the story of Sam, a troubled young boy whose past is mostly keep secret from us. We know it’s not pretty and it’s clear that he’s not like the other kids, instantly making Sam a lead character worth rooting for. Much of the film focuses on Sam’s pursuit of the mysterious villain, and it’s at its best when it’s merely hinting at the strange connection shared between the two.
As it turns out, the villain isn’t a creature but rather a feral young boy, and it’s easy to understand why Sam would feel empathy toward him. Referred to as Kai, the strange boy wears a creepy mask and communicates only through cat-like purrs, and if there’s any villain this year who is destined to become a horror icon it is he. The character is almost instantly iconic, as well as suitably terrifying.
And Kai is not alone out there in the woods, joined by a father figure who is equally mysterious. The two have rigged up the entire campsite with various traps and motion sensors, and they live underground in a makeshift bunker – think Jason Voorhees in the Friday remake. Govaerts smartly establishes their methods but doesn’t delve too far into explanations, leaving ample room for sequel potential.
It may not be the goriest slasher film, but make no mistake: Cub isn’t afraid to go to dark places, especially for a movie featuring child actors. A couple standout scenes of gruesome carnage show the Rube Goldberg-esque traps in action, with one scene involving a dog being particularly upsetting. And for the final act, Cub becomes the blood-soaked horror film it was destined to be from the outset.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the score, which at times calls to mind John Carpenter’s musical work. The man responsible for Cub‘s memorable sound is Steve Moore, and I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that Moore is also responsible for The Guest‘s stellar soundtrack. Carpenter-inspired scores are quickly becoming a trend in modern horror films (see: It Follows), and I can’t say I’m not okay with that.
With a story that deviates from the norm and yet still manages to deliver everything you’d want it to, Cub is somewhat of an evolved 80s slasher, embodying the spirit of the classics while simultaneously blazing its own path. Jonas Govaerts impressively creates a rich mythology in his very first feature effort, one that absolutely begs for the film to spawn not just a sequel but an entire slasher franchise.
Here’s hoping that Cub is merely the origin story for that franchise.
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