Special to the American-Statesman
Another terrifying Fantastic Fest entry from Belgium, “Cub” is the feature debut from director Jonas Govaerts. It follows a group of scouts as they head out to the French countryside to go camping. Troop leaders Chris and Peter scare the boys before they even leave on the trip, letting them know that a half boy, half beast known as Kai has been spotted in the area where they will be setting up camp.
Sam (Maurice Luijten), a 12-year-old boy with a violent past, is the only one who really takes the warning seriously, and he begins hunting for Kai pretty quickly after their arrival. Initially, it seems as though the only troubles on the trip are going to come from a few local residents, but Sam soon sees Kai with his own eyes even if he cannot convince his fellow troops.
Along the way, we see that there may be more to worry about than just Kai. The forest is elaborately rigged with traps and triggers that seem to be far too complex for a feral child to develop on his own. The script slowly and deliberately works within genre conventions to begin killing off people on the periphery of the story and then target our leads.
For all of Sam’s issues, he’s extremely clever and quick on his feet. It doesn’t take long for him to traverse the wooded area around the camp site and discover Kai’s hiding place high in the trees. Govaerts establishes his fears, but also his determination to survive at all costs and protect his fellow troops.
“Cub” is highly intelligent at the same time that it’s ridiculously far-fetched. There are some comic moments, but the film chooses mostly to play it straight and dark, with an undercurrent of evil at all times. Unfortunately, it has another example of this year’s disturbing trend of extreme animal violence. The brutal beating of a dog in the second half of the film will undoubtedly be a trigger for some viewers. I’d argue, however, that if you’re ok with the thought of watching pre-teen boys get needlessly slaughtered, you should be able to handle the same happening to a pet.
The film builds to an over-the-top climax that is one of the most violent I’ve watched over the last five days. For horror fans, “Cub” delivers in every way imaginable.