Horror junkies are a much more accepting lot than general audiences when it comes to films made outside North America. We don’t mind hearing languages different than our own or reading subtitles as long as we’re given a solid, well-crafted film with a good scare or two. To whit, many of the most artistically successful fright flicks of the last two decades were produced overseas (unfortunately, many of those same films were then co-opted for a tepid North American remake; subsequently watered-down, neutered and shorn of the elements that made them so succesful to begin with.) A horror import that has been the recipient of some buzz of late is the Belgian there’s-something-in-the-woods flick Cub: a gripping if slightly flawed little fright flick which deserves some attention on these shores.
As the film begins, a girl is fleeing in abject terror through a forest. She gets snared in a trap, and a muck-encrusted boy wearing a wooden mask that makes him resemble a real-life version of Groot from Gaurdians of the Galaxy stops and stares. She extricates herself only to be stopped dead by another more elaborate trap.
Cut to a kid racing furiously to a schoolyard and two exasperated Cub Scout leaders waiting for him. They are the slightly sadistic Peter and the more sympathetic Kris. The boy is obviously the runt of the litter, and the victim of much mockery and bullying from both Peter and the other scouts.
Before leaving on a camping trip, the troop leaders regale the assembled with the legend of “Kai”: a boy who hides in the woods and turns into a werewolf when the moon is full and bright. “Kai can kiss my balls” exclaims one of the scouts, and into the woods they go, stopping along the way to pick up camp cook Jasmijn.
Peter and Kris arrive at the campsite to find that it’s occupied by a couple of tracksuit-wearing, beer-drinking, dune-bug riding hooligans. After a brief skirmish, they go into the forest to play some “forest games”, then decide to make camp there to avoid further conflict with the louts.
As the kids are pitching tent, Sam spots a muddy, ominous figure and claims to have seen Kai. The rest are having none of it and accuse Sam of literally crying wolf. Later, Sam spots a photograph on the forest floor and looks up to see what can only be described as a giant nest/cage. He climbs the tree, but his investigation is cut short as he’s called out for some more bullying.
The next morning, the troop leaders notice that certain items are missing. Sam climbs the tree and comes face-to-face with the feral Kai. Meanwhile, one of the hooligans goes into the forest to get some gas from the troop, but is unaware that the entire forest is rustically booby-trapped by a bunch of Rube Goldberg inventions by way of Bear Grylls. He’s gutted like a carp, and that’s the least of his woes.
Sam and Kai form an unlikely, tentative kinship, and they do something horrific to Peter’s dog Zoltan, which Sam gets solely blamed for. Soon, all civility goes to shit and Cub turns into Lord of the Flies by way of House of 1000 Corpses.
Cub expertly builds suspense and piles on the creepy atmosphere for the first two-thirds. The final act is pulse pounding, but there is one element that does detract slightly. While not everything in a movie needs to be explained to the nth degree, if the motivations of one character were elucidated just a bit rather than outright ignored, the film would have been all the better for it.
Nonetheless, Cub does deliver the goods. There are some phenomenal kills and a suitably bleak ending. The subtitle-averse who skip Cub because they don’t like to “read” movies will certainly be missing out on something pretty special.
***1/2 (out of five)