Visually striking but dramatically flat Belgian horror from Jonas Govaerts
When a group of Belgian boy scouts take to the woods for a camping trip, loner Sam (Maurice Luijten) becomes convinced that he’s seen mythical werewolf child Kai (Gill Eeckelaert) stalking their patch. Initially, no-one believes him, but soon the evidence becomes impossible to ignore…
With Cub, debut director Jonas Govaerts (who co-writes with Roel Mondelaers) has created a visually striking horror which falls flat in both the narrative and dramatic stakes. While the camera of lauded cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis (Bullhead, The Drop) stalks effectively through the undergrowth, navigating a landscape that is both beautiful and predatory, the story trips over itself at every turn.
That’s because the screenplay fails to deliver on any of the elements it takes care to set up in the first third. Sam’s isolation, tensions between the Dutch and French-speaking regions and the devastation of the local economy are touched upon but never fully explored. Similarly, almost none of the characters are fleshed out beyond clichés: the boys are an interchangeable bunch of noisy adolescents; their two twenty-something male leaders stereotypical lads struggling with responsibility; and the lone female amongst them – the pretty camp cook, of course – nothing more than an object of desire for both man and boy. Only the inept local police officer, brilliantly played for laughs by Dardenne brothers regular Jean-Michel Balthazar, has any real substance, but he remains on the outskirts of the action.
Which all means that when the film finally descends into carnage it plays like horror for its own sake, rather than anything with narrative value. The kills may be inventive, with everyone – man, woman or child – being fair game, but there is simply no-one worth rooting for. While it showcases enough filmmaking talent to make Govaerts an interesting future prospect, Cub plays more like a collection of recycled ideas than a coherent story in its own right.
Selected release from Fri 31 Jul.