“Cub” is a creepy camping movie with innovations and strange narrative

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“Cub” starts out as any good campfire story should — with a creepy legend so frighteningly realistic that it’s almost believable. Of course, in true horror movie fasion, that legend turns out to be the real thing. When a group of boy scouts go on a camping trip, they encounter the frightening truth behind all the scary stories in an engaging and thrilling film.

Sam (Maurice Luijten) is an outcast among his fellow cub scouts. He’s especially reviled for voicing his belief in a mysterious feral child named Kai (Gill Eeckelaert), who is supposed to stalk the woods where the troop is to host its camping expedition. While scout leaders Peter (Stef Aerts) and Chris (Titus De Voogdt), along with camp cook Jasmijn (Evelien Bosmans), wrangle the troop and try to ensure the outing goes off without a hitch, Sam has the sneaking suspicion that everyone’s life could be at risk when it becomes apparent that Kai may be more than a simple legend.

“Cub” excels mainly because of its creativity. The story could have just settled on being a basic “killer-in-the-woods” tale, but director Jonas Govaerts expands the plot further. Instead of killing off the people who stumble across his path, Kai uses a variety of clever booby traps situated across the forest, all of them quite deadly. However, the viewer is left wanting to see more of them.

The majority of the cast turns in decent performances. Luijten excels as the timid Sam, whose nervousness can easily transform into anger toward everyone who shuns him. Aerts is great as the arrogant, harsh scoutmaster, while Voogdt provides a nice balance as the caring troop leader. With Kai communicating through whines and growls, Eeckelaert manages to bring out the savagery in him.

The shortfall in “Cub” is the confusing plot. It seems Govaerts implements too many twists and turns, along with concepts that don’t necessarily pan out, into the film without giving the plot enough time to breath. Clocking in at just 85 minutes, “Cub” has simply too much to explore with inadequate time to do so. Some characters who are introduced — most notably a mysterious man viewed as Kai’s “controller” — seem unnecessary. Plot elements are left unexplained or not explained enough. The ending, while climatic, leaves the audience wanting more.

“Cub” is a thrilling horror film that takes a new look at the scary campfire story. It introduces compelling characters and a setting full of innovations. Unfortunately, these clever ideas take a back seat to odd narrative choices and unnecessary additions. With a short runtime, it becomes frustrating when certain parts are left unexplained, leading to an ending that is rushed and annoyingly open-ended. Despite the flaws, “Cub” has enjoyable moments supported by good acting and a tense atmosphere. In time, it has the potential to be remembered as a new addition to the list of “don’t-go-in-the-woods” classics.