Cub (aka “Welp”) is a 2014 Belgian flick about a Cub Scout group getting in a pretty precarious spot out in the woods. It’s the first film from director Jonas Govaerts and interestingly is a movie that was made at least in part through a successful IndieGoGo campaign. Let’s talk about whether this one is worth seeking out and adding to your stable of outdoor horror, but remember to tread somewhat lightly, there are spoilers down below. If you haven’t seen the movie, check out the trailer and consider going in blind.
Reviewed by: Jake
A group of Cub Scouts in Belgium head out on an overnight outing and make camp in the woods nearby an old factory that had been shut down some time ago, laying off its worker and leaving the area a ghost town. In typical campfire fashion, the scout troop leaders tell some stories to the kids to get the excitement up, focusing on the legend of Kai, a feral boy with some strong werewolf overtones - the typical thing. This is particularly impactful for one of the scouts named Sam (Maurice Luijten), who is more impressionable than the other boys and is commonly bullied. This is made even worse by one of the scout leaders, Baloo, who is a raging dickhead to Sam because he thinks he’s weird.
Soon after arriving, Sam runs into Kai (Gill Eeckelaert) in the forest, proving that the campfire story was actually true. At least most of it… The kid he refers to as Kai is a feral monstrosity living in a tree house and appears to be the son/lapdog (maybe both) of this mountain of a man who has a vast array of traps set up in the forest to kill off any who come around those parts. He is ostensibly really, really pissed off at the world for the factory closure and losing his job, so he just kills everyone via his network of rube-goldbergian traps.
Things escalate really quickly after Sam and Kai together kill Baloo’s dog. Baloo snaps and beats the shit out of Sam who runs off into the woods. The rest of the scout leaders go looking for him and start getting killed. The huge dude shows up at camp in his truck and runs straight through the cub scout tent, killing almost all the kids in one pass. A couple get out and shoot a hole in his truck so it leaks gas while Sam baits him to drive over the campfire which blows the truck up and makes you think the dude is dead. Sam then tracks down Kai to try to save Jasmijn (Evelien Bosmans), the remaining scout leader. He and Kai rumble and end up in a knife fight at the bottom of a pit where many dead bodies are dumped. Man mountain shows back up burned to a crisp but still alive and still pissed at humans. The knife fight wages off screen and one kid emerges in the Kai mask, but we find out it’s Sam. He then kills Jasmijn, indicating that he has full on snapped and assumed the role of Kai du-jour. He leaves with the man to assume the feral life.
What the Movie Does Right
This movie is both simple and unique, and that’s not as common a combo as you’d think. On the podcast, we ran into the interesting situation where all of us agreed that there was not much in terms of a story here, and it actually led to a relatively different experience for the three of us. Jack and I were in agreement that this is largely fine and allowed for the traps to shine through. Not having to worry too much about the characters was a good thing in this instance, as it would have gotten pretty taxing considering we are talking about a pretty large group of scouts. Mark liked the simplicity holistically and enjoyed how the Kai character unfolded from legend to reality, making him tangible but also mysterious. This is aided by the end of the film, where Sam takes on the role of Kai in a sort of mythical “he’s always out there” way. It was actually a lot like The Santa Clause, but instead of Tim Allen, you get a Belgian kid covered in mud…
Even though this is a small independent flick and it’s in a foreign language, it’s a little surprising there hasn’t been more of a Kai movement because he is a unique villain and he has a very well designed mask that is pretty unforgettable. He doesn’t have an immense amount to do when on screen, but he looks unique and as mentioned above, the resolution of the film makes his arc interesting because he evolves from campfire tale to reality and then again takes on a more mysterious role at the end of the film. That’s pretty cool.
Also as mentioned above, the bread & butter of this film are some ludicrous traps that the crazed poacher has set up in the woods allowing him to prey on passersby. Some of them are nuts. My favorite is an almost slapstick form of cartoon overkill in a trap that is set up in such a way that it fires a stake through a massive beehive and into the chest of an unlucky meat puppet of a French character. It’s really confusing to think about how this trap even works but when it fires, there is a symphony of horror-meets-comedy that played really well for me, though it’s definitely not going for laughs.
What the Movie Does Wrong
I definitely didn’t need a backstory detailing all the ways the poacher was wronged and what led to him snapping and turning to the life he now leads, but there is a fine line between ambiguity being scarier than detail and the unexplained being a detraction from the film. Overall, this movie works if you don’t worry about the plot too much. I would really have liked to see a little more effort made to answer the why are they doing this question. There is definitely something sinister about not knowing (think about the strangers in The Strangers), but this movie has too much that is played in a ludicrous and borderline comedic way via the traps that are in place, and it creates some tonal inconsistencies that leave you wanting it to have been handled a little bit differently. I honestly wouldn’t even have cared which direction they went, but I feel this would have been a stronger film if either the traps and kills were more brutal and realistic, or if there would have been more of a whimsical tone to all of it.
What Kids Do Wrong
Kids are raging assholes to each other. This is not a fault of the movie but I hate watching it and there’s an abundance of kids being stone douches in this flick. Fuck off.
Story: 4.5 - There isn’t a ton here and I feel like the movie juust misses out on a better tonal balance that it could have achieved by leaning harder in either direction on the serious - absurd continuum. For the record, Mark gave this an 8… We probably should have made him write this review.
World-Building / Immersion: 6 - Trying not to double jeopardize for tonal issues but there’s a bit of a trickle down effect that I cant really help. Still, this is a relatively immersive film, with the main thing taking me out being the fact that I have to read subtitles. That’s always an odd thing for this category because on one hand you have to pay attention to a movie with subtitles to understand anything due to the language barrier, but on the other hand, you are aware the whole time you watch the movie that you are watching a movie in a foreign language and are having to read everything. Mileage may vary here.
Scare-Factor: 5.5 - There are some good kills and Kai is pretty iconic looking, even if he will never be very well known.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 7.5 - Pretty much everything in this movie looks good and the filmmakers did a good job of not showing things they couldn’t competently create. Bonus points for the Kai mask prop. On the audio side, I liked the score in a vacuum but the 80’s synth felt out of place for me in the context of the film.
Overall: 6.5 - I’d definitely recommend this one but not as highly as Mark would (he gave this thing a somewhat flabbergasting 8.5). Either way, check it out. It’s a good addition to your pre-outdoors adventure list of horror films.