In Jonas Govaerts’ Cub, solid filmmaking and worthy performances fold under the excessive weight of tropes and contrivances in this full-on descent into torture porn.
The Last Boyscoutby Dave O'Flanagan
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Much like the forest-dwelling ‘creature’ at the heart of his debut, director Jonas Govaerts’ survival horror film is something of a hybrid oddity. Serving as homage to slasher horror films of old, early on, Govaerts’ film treads a fine line between pastiche and idiosyncratic – until it tumbles perilously down into a nasty Eli Roth torture-porn style hole. The first forty minutes or so of Govaerts’ film exhibits a confidence and swagger that belies the experience of a first-time director. However, in spite of this assured opening, the patient and largely suspenseful build-up is frustratingly undermined and bludgeoned to death in favour of excessive brutality and a few too many laughable plot-contrivances.
A cub scout troupe head out on a camping trip amidst rumours of missing persons and a mysterious creature lurking in the wilderness of Antwerp. A troubled kid with a violent background, Sam (Maurice Luijten) is one of the troupe’s number enchanted by the creature known only as ‘Kai’. Bullied by his peers and tormented by one of his scout leaders, Sam strikes up a surprising alliance
Cub is one of those frustrating debut features that bares the hallmarks of a director more adept at the art of short-filmmaking. There’s an inescapable sense that if Jonas Govaerts’ film was cut to a more slimline 30-40 minutes, it would have been a more rewarding experience. Written by Govaerts’ and Roel Mondelaers, early on, the script develops characters and backstories only to furiously cast these aside later on when all hell breaks loose. Having established character motivations and actions with such aplomb in the film’s opening act, Govaerts and Modelaers’ script suddenly eschews nuance with such jarring immediacy that the film never really recovers.
A particularly tasteless and brutal scene of animal violence signals a steep drop-off in an otherwise intriguingly crafted film to that point. Most galling about the descent into the gruesome, nonsensical and silly final third is that it’s clear Govaerts’ has talent as a director. In addition to the refreshingly strong performances from his young cast, the film is also beautifully shot by The Drop and Bullhead cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis. Allied by the creepy electronic score from Steve Moore, Govaerts’ crafts a nice little film that ultimately shoots itself in the foot with shoddy tropes and an over-dependence on a hole in the ground.
The bravado and swagger of Jonas Govaerts’ films opening act signifies the emergence of an interesting young talent. Ultimately, his film is undone by an appalling and fatal nosedive in narrative that takes the film down all too familiar avenues. With such obvious skill as a filmmaker, you suspect that with better source material, Govaerts’ next film will be an altogether different beast.
Cub is released on 31st July 2015 in the UK