Color, 2014, 84m.
Directed by Jonas Govaerts
Starring Maurice Luijten, Evelien Bosmans, Titus De Voogdt, Stef Aerts
Artsploitation ( Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)
It was inevitable that someone would make a slasher movie about a cub scout troop, especially given that "Weird Al" Yankovic even wrote a song about the concept back in the '80s, but few could have predicted that it would finally come in 2014 from Belgium. So here we are with Cub, originally titled Welp, which tosses in some monster lore for good measure but mostly plays by the slasher book as it follows prepubescent Sam (Luijten) and his bullying peers as they head out for a weekend exploring in the woods.
The none-too-bright scoutmaster Peter, aka Baloo (Aerts), already warns them about the story of Kai, a young boy who turns into a werewolf at night and has recently ravaged a young couple (whom we've seen offed in the opening scene), but that just gets the kids more excited for an adventure in the wilderness. Plenty of strange locals are hanging out along the way, but that doesn't get in their way from singing campfire songs, picking on each other, and scoping out an illicit stash of nudie magazines. Meanwhile Sam spies a shadowy figures he believes to be Kai and suffers from nightmares about the monster intruding inside their tent with a sharp knife, but that doesn't sway the adults who also include more sympathetic scout leaders Kris (De Voogt) and Jasmijn (Bosmans). Soon it turns out there's a very real menace in the woods who's arranged a terrifying array of booby traps, using everything from arrows to beehives to gigantic trees to dispatch of anyone who wanders the wrong way.
Though it owes a bit to everything from Just Before Dawn to Wrong Turn (with a little dash of Phenomena), this twisted little variation sets itself apart through the unusual selection of potential victims (with the heftiest kid body count since The Burning), a masked feral menace different from what you usually find in slasher films, and a very effective, atmospheric music score that flirts with a John Carpenter sound at times courtesy of Steve Moore (The Guest). It also displays an amusing knowledge of horror culture including some wry Stephen King references and even a pivotal pit bull named Zoltan (whose fate is probably the most upsetting in the film, even though it's mostly implied). The attention to the details of scout life is a nice wrinkle as well, with everything from assembly calls to flag capturing worked into the mix. There may be a deeper message at work here about the cycle of violence perpetuated by bullying and the mistreatment of children, but it's mostly overwhelmed by the barrage of creative kills and often gorgeous scope cinematography.
Artsploitation definitely veers more to the last three syllables of its name with this one, available on both Blu-ray and DVD with identical supplements. The HD presentation is as immaculate and impressive as you'd expect for a 2014 film, with first-time filmmaker (but longtime TV and short film vet) Jonas Govaerts delivering a visually impressive feature from start to finish. The Dutch audio can be played in DTS-HD MA 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Digital 2.0 (go for the first option if you can), with optional English subtitles (in an odd shade of light beige). The extras include 6 minutes of non-anamorphic deleted scenes with burned-in subs (including a look at Sam's home life), a 3-minute visual effects highlight reel showing how digital effects were even used on some mundane landscape shots, a 13-minute Govaerts short entitled "Of Cats and Women" (which also has slasher elements and a dash of domestic animal violence), a Deadsets music video for the song "One Hour" also directed by Govaerts (which would never get shown on TV in America and treats another cub scout to a gory death), and trailers for this film and Bloody Knuckles, Der Samurai, and The Treatment.