One of the best parts about Fantastic Fest is that it features filmmakers who try to push your preconceived notion as far out of your head as possible and completely blow your mind by hitting you with something that comes out of nowhere. What you think is a relationship drama turns into something supernatural. A romantic comedy turns into a revenge thriller. A yakuza movie turns into a musical with vampires and puppets. However, for as enjoyable as being surprised by a movie can be, there’s also something incredibly refreshing when a movie delivers on all of its promises. One of my most fulfilling theatrical experiences at Fantastic Fest was Cub, which delivered on every promise that it made to you in the opening sequence. Despite it being a relatively straight forward slasher, it included one of the most talked about scenes of the entire festival that completely turned people off from being able to support it, which, at Fantastic Fest, is saying a lot.
What could possibly go wrong?! I mean, nothing bad happened in The Sandlot, right?
The Belgian film opens with a young woman being pursued by an unseen force deep in the woods. Right when she thinks she’s made it to safety, the threat catches up with her. So, yeah, these woods have some bad shit going on in them. According to local law enforcement, there’s been quite a few disappearances in those woods ever since the lumber mill was shut down. This won’t stop a group of from camping there for the night! The film focuses on one 12 year-old named Sam (Maurice Luijten) who is bullied by the other children. Apparently the scout leaders are aware of Sam having a troubled past, but they still don’t do much to intervene. Rather, they build up a myth in the boys’ heads about a creature that lives in the woods. As bad things start happening to those visiting the woods, it becomes clear that there’s evil with them in those woods and that no one is safe.
Well maybe your nose would stop bleeding if you kept your finger out of there.
Before talking about the quality of the film, most people expressed their opinions on a scene that focused on violence towards a helpless animal. It seemed like a lot of movies at Fantastic Fest coincidentally featured violence towards animals, but the violence in Cub seemed to be too much. I beg to differ, as I believe the violence towards a dog in Cub was the most justified violence I had seen in any film featuring similar situations. The scene focused on a helpless animal and refused to turn away from the violence one character was able to carry out on the animal. It was long, it was torturous, it was hard to sit through, and it made the film all the more effective. In a movie like John Wick, about a hit man seeking revenge on the people who killed his puppy, it could have been any number of triggers to kickstart his rampage. In other films, dogs who weren’t featured all that much were randomly killed off as more fodder to show just how far the filmmakers were willing to go. The problem isn’t filmmakers killing dogs, the problem is audiences who aren’t shocked by anything anymore, so what better way than to kill a purely innocent being that so many people have strong emotional connections to? In that respect, I don’t think I could’ve liked Cub as much without the extreme animal violence.
Of course you guys will be safe! You’ve got a big, tough army truck!
That being said, man, I fucking dug this movie. I almost feel bad liking it so much because of the animal violence and how I might be judged, but I don’t care, this movie is awesome. I haven’t been this impressed with the cinematography and sound design since High Tension. The film takes place almost exclusively in the woods and many scenes are lit merely by flashlight or campfire. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the name “Steve Moore” in the opening credits, and I partly didn’t understand the credits because they weren’t in English. Steve Moore is half of one of my favorite bands, Zombi, known for their heavy bass and trippy synth sounds that pays respects to artists like Goblin or Fabio Frizzi. The music is one of my favorite scores of the year, right up there with that other score that Steve Moore did from, oh wait, that’s right, The Guest. Another one of my favorite movies of the year. Goddamn you, Steve. How can you make such groovy tunes?!
This year’s You’re Next mask?
If a film is willing to torture a dog, you can bet your ass that they aren’t going to take it easy on their main characters, no matter how old they are. No one is safe in Cub and the filmmakers don’t hold back. Oh, that’s reminds me, you know how I’m pissed at Steve Moore for how talented he is? The same can be said of writer/director Jonas Govaerts, because this is his first goddamned movie. And it’s awesome. Whether you could sit through the animal violence or not, there’s no doubt that Govaerts made an incredibly effective movie. He took a tried and true formula and executed it quite well, but still managed to surprise the audience. Cub is dark, violent, gorgeous, and doesn’t pull any punches. Just don’t let your dogs watch it.
Wolfman Moon Scale