Sunday, October 11, 2015

Cub (2014)

Original title: Welp

aka Camp Evil (which really might be the worst possible title for this movie, thank you very much, German distributor)

A Flemish group of boy scouts and their three scout leaders head off to the French speaking parts of Belgium for a camping outing. Unfortunately, things are bound to get problematic: one of the leaders is a sadistic prick any sane person would keep as far away from their children as possible, and the planned camp site is blocked by a couple of rude French tweenagers so that the group heads off into the woods to make their camp.

Alas, these woods are not a good place to be for anyone. Young Sam (Maurice Luitjen), a quiet outsider with some kind of traumatic past bashed by his peers and Scout Leader Asshole, soon encounters a feral, masked and pretty naked boy child (Gill Eeckelaert) in the woods. Thinking he’s encountering a werewolf the scout leaders made up to make the trip more interesting in his day shape, Sam sort of makes friends with the mute, heavy-breathing kid. However, the boy might be more than just feral, and the woods just might be a death trap for nearly everyone stumbling into them.

Please insert a short essay about the history of horror films in Belgium here, oh knowledgeable reader. I got nothing there. Which fortunately is not a problem when it comes to Jonas Govaerts extraordinary film, because while it does make use of local specifics, its themes of the feral thing living inside of us (kids and adults alike), always threatening to break out, are, if not universal, ideas a lot of us will connect to.

If not, there’s always the clever and thoughtful way in which Govaerts uses very traditional horror themes and methods and gives them a slight twist that doesn’t turn them upside down exactly but certainly opens up unexpected perspectives on them, in quite a few moments achieving the kind of horror that isn’t of other movies but of the soul (to paraphrase some guy named Poe). Which is an overblown way of saying I found myself actually shocked by two of the film’s scenes, not because of any breaking of taboos but because Govaerts brought me as a viewer to the point where I wasn’t thinking about what was going on here as part of a genre space (though there would of course be nothing wrong with that) but took it personally.

Govaerts achieves this particular effect because he’s quite so great at the typical genre bits, really getting what’s horrifying about the woods, back country killers, brutal traps, and little boys who don’t act like most of us define little boys or humans any more, and uses this understanding to also turn Welp into a very effective backwoods slasher variation. So, even if you discount that this is a film that has a (rather dark) idea about human nature and expresses this idea rather well, you’re still left with a tight, lean, and pleasantly nasty little piece of backwoods horror, atmospherically photographed, excellently paced, neatly constructed, and very well acted.

Of course, when you’ve got a mind to, you can always play the plot hole fishing game, and quickly end up with questions like “how could the film’s killer(s) have been undiscovered for what must have been quite a while in a stretch of woods that can’t be all that big, given their obvious bodycount?”. And obviously, you wouldn’t be wrong there. However, to my eyes, this sort of question only seldom matters with horror films, unless they are so bad there’s nothing else going on in them to amuse yourself with, or when this sort of thing becomes so glaring you can’t avoid it even if you’re not actively looking for it; constructing a close imitation of reality just isn’t what horror is about for me, rather it’s the construction of a reality all of its own, built to comment on ours, make philosophical or intellectual concepts palpable through application of blood and tears, or just to scare the crap out of you.

As it turns out, I found Welp succeeding rather well at all three of those things.

No comments: