Tom Humberstone


horror week - day 10

Welp/Cub (2014)

"Finally, a pretty part of the French countryside."

Quick summary: A troop of Belgian scouts embark on a camping trip. The kid with a troubled past and few friends - Sam - spots something in the forest... But no-one believes him. Is it his over-active imagination? Or are they being watched?

As soon as there are scouts on a camping trip I find films like Wet Hot American Summer and Moonrise Kingdom popping into my head. I was half expecting a Belgian version of the Wes Anderson SNL parody - The Midnight Coterie of Sinister Intruders.

Instead, we get a film that aims to evoke a childhood adventure/horror in the vein of Stephen King (the kids are camping near Casselroque which I'm assuming is a reference to King's Castle Rock, Maine). The music is synthy and very John Carpenter as is the modern trend (no complaints from me) - so we're almost in Stranger Things territory here.

Ultimately, Welp starts to descend into a gruesome kid version of Switchblade Romance (unbelievably, the film was granted an all-ages rating in Belgium) with some full-on gore and unrelenting villains. As with that film, I found myself really admiring the direction, the editing, and the craftsmanship on display while having a problem with how the final act plays out.

There's something bracingly uncomfortable about watching children endure the traditional mental and physical ordeal of such a horror film - I felt like the film could have made some interesting points about that. I also found it interesting as a sort of dark coming-of-age movie.

I think my preference would have been to have more of the film focus on the actual everyday scouting horrors with sadistic scout leaders and bullying kids. All the scouting traditions and games and rituals felt like things I hadn't seen in a film before and seemed ripe for horror - most of which went unexplored.

Can't pretend I didn't find enjoyment in Baloo's tree encounter.

The film was crowd-funded through IndieGoGo.

"French jerks!"

Pretty sure the scout leader had Suspiria playing on his ringtone.

I also watched:

The Den (2013)

"I'm just trying to make some new friends."

Quick summary: Elizabeth has just got some grant money to research a chat-roulette style piece of software called The Den. She'll be on it all the time, with her computer recording everything. But some of the people she meets online might be dangerous.

So this film, for the first half, is a found footage movie taking place entirely on Elizabeth's screen in the much the same way that Unfriended works. This came out before, and it appears that a lot of people rate this higher than Unfriended - though it may well come down to which one people see first.

I have to say, I found Unfriended to be the far superior version of this style of laptop-screen-as-viewing-experience device. The Den may have come out first but I feel like Unfriended perfected the gimmick - revealing characters and decisions by letting us see first drafts of comments and emails before they are erased and rewritten (instead of relying on expository dialogue), and having something to say about cyber-bullying and online abuse that justifies the entire structure of the movie.

The Den has to expend some clunky dialogue and opening scenes explaining why everything is being recorded and why Elizabeth is enduring chat roulette and it just doesn't feel as clever or as unsettling as Unfriended which played around with the form of the laptop screen in increasingly clever ways. Granted, had I seen The Den first, I think the novelty of the device itself would have made me feel more warmly towards the film.

It's a much nastier film than Unfriended. The final half hour becomes an interminable torture porn fest (if it hasn't been pretty clear during these posts, I'm not a fan of torture porn) with an ending that most people who have seen My Little Eye will guess a mile away.

And that last scene can do one - I've seen Funny Games - don't try that "but aren't we all complicit in watching these narratives?" in a last ditch attempt to make the film mean something.

I suppose The Den is the nihilistic, nasty, and more realistic (in that there are no ghosts) sibling of the more structured, nuanced, and ultimately quite moral Unfriended. I think there are horror film fans who will see one of those sounding more up their street than the other.

Happy Halloween!

Going to leave my Horror Week at that (20 films + 10 illustrations) and re-watch some horror classics tonight without taking notes.

This was a lot of fun. Thanks for following along and sharing the posts if you have been. I'll try and do the same thing next year if I can. Of course, horror films are for life, not just for Halloween so I'll be attempting to catch up with Blair Witch, The Girl With All The Gifts, Carnage Park, Under The Shadow, and all the other recent cinema releases I've missed when they make it to dvd.

I ended up prioritising more modern horror this time around as they are often closer to 80-100 minutes long and thus a little easier to double-bill every evening. A shame as I really wanted to fill in some more horror blind spots - so again, I'll be working my way through them outside of October.

Favourites this year: The Witch, Darling, When Animals Dream, The Battery.
Honourable Mentions: May, The Shallows, Mama, The Bay, Welp.

Halloween-related recommendations:
Little White Lies interview with John Carpenter
BBC Fright Night audio plays/shorts/bedtime reads