Hot on the heels of Artsploitation Films’ release KILLBILLIES, I thought I’d take a look at another title from the distributor, this time on blu-ray.
Whilst perhaps a little too eager to please its 1980s forbears, Jonas Govaerts’ pre-teen backwoods slasher WELP (aka CUB) is a gleeful pick ‘n mix potpourri of THE BURNING (cf killer in the countryside) via THE GOONIES (cf nostalgia-tinged action adventure). Naturally enough, it struggles trying to juggle the two but has flashes of brilliance along the way.
Sam (Maurice Luijten) is a twelve-year-old outcast who comes of age on a barely organised cub scout camping expedition. As we learn about Sam’s disturbed past, we are offered some thinly realised relationships with the other cubs, some discomforting bullying, and a dangerous but beguiling friendship with a mysterious feral boy Kai (Gill Eeckelaert) he meets in the woods.
Befitting his poster-boy status, woodland wildchild Kai is an iconic creation. Masked and muted to the point of madness, he sniffs and snuffles his way into our nightmares. Kai is that all-too rare thing in modern horror: a beautifully drawn and intriguing monster.
Kai has such onscreen potential that his servitude to a murderous hulk – named The Poacher (Jan Hammenecker) in the final credits – is a slight disappointment. However, it is the latter’s hidden subterranean hell of saws and switches that triggers the film’s plentiful carnage and, ultimately, seals Sam’s fate in the forest.
Propelled by a synthtastic score, and sticking to a lean running time, WELP isn’t afraid to show us the money. Be warned, WELP is prepared to do things to a tent full of children (and a dog in a bag…) that will slacken your jaw. Its trim form possibly cuts too many corners and results in some of the less-satisfying elements: the all-too obvious arseholeism of the bullies, rather disjointed storytelling, and unresolved leaps of logic as characters take their different journeys through the woods.
But these are minor complaints. Part throw-back, part myth-maker in its own right, WELP is a refreshing blast of horror from the Flemish-speaking bits of Belgium (and you don’t often get a chance to say that).
Unsurprisingly, WELP seems to be resisting an English-language remake, but audiences could certainly do with a Kai-focused prequel. After all, perhaps some of us just have dark destinies?
In brief: Part throw-back, part myth-maker in its own right, Jonas Govaerts’ pre-teen backwoods slasher WELP (aka CUB) is a refreshing blast of horror from the Flemish speaking bits of Belgium (& you don’t often get a chance to say that).
Strapline: “Be prepared.”
An earlier version of this review was posted at radiantcircus.com.