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Artsploitation Films Highlight the Dark Side of Belgian Cinema with Two New Blu-rays

Artsploitation Films jumped on the scene for North American distribution in a big way in the last few years, filling a much needed gap in the allocation/distribution of a certain kind of film for NA distribution. Self-described as ”not strictly a genre label,” they rather, “look for intriguing, unsettling, unpredictable and provocative films from around the world.” It’s hard to argue with their own assessment. In their relatively short lifespan, the label has championed genre-pushing films like Toad Road, Horsehead, and Der Samurai. They have proven themselves to be one of America’s most daring distributors, giving homes to films that would probably otherwise go undistributed. In recent months, they’ve sort of set their sights on Belgium, delivering on Blu-Ray releases of the gritty crime thriller The Treatment, as well as Jonas Govaerts’s highly anticipated horror film Cub.

Hans Herbots's The Treatment (2014) [click to enlarge]

Hans Herbots’s The Treatment (2014) [click to enlarge]

The Treatment saw its official release in 2014 but (other than playing a select few festivals) never received theatrical play Stateside. So, for many, this Blu-ray release was the first time anyone had a chance to see the film. At first, The Treatment feels like a paint-by-numbers crime thriller, something akin to the cult of Fincher. This, however, quickly fades as the film continually delves into darker and darker territories. Based on the second in a series of “Jack Caffery” novels by British author Mo Hayder, The Treatment spins a fiercely unique twist on the contemporary neo-noir thriller. While I have not read it, it would seem as if Screenwriter Carl Joos (The Broken Circle Breakdown) and director Hans Herbots honor Hayder’s dark source material, only changing minute details (such as changing the lead character’s name from Jack Caffery to Nick Cafmeyer).

The film opens amidst a hazy recollection. Two children are playing a game of Cowboys and Indians that is suddenly interrupted when one of the two boys appears to be kidnapped by an older man. Cut to modern day, Detective Nick Cafmeyer (Geert Van Rampelberg), still haunted by his past, is assigned to a grizzly case. A family has been kidnapped and held hostages in their own home. While the captives have been beaten nearly to death, the inspectors arrive in time to save them but their young boy is still missing. When a pattern seems to link the case to his own past, Cafmeyer is drawn closer and closer into the case, until it nearly drives him mad.

Hans Herbots's The Treatment (2014) [click to enlarge]

Hans Herbots’s The Treatment (2014) [click to enlarge]

As aforementioned, while a first glance of the film will undeniably bring up references to David Fincher’s films, Herbots film is surprisingly darker than anything Fincher has made. The main themes for The Treatment deal with pedophilia, child pornography, and extreme misogyny. Herbots mostly handles the material in a respectful manner, but the film does delve into some almost silly territories at times. The film, however, offers no chance at crass redemption or ‘Hollywood style’ endings, and it is ultimately the bleak ending that ties the whole piece together.

Stylistically speaking, the film is well crafted without appearing to glitzy for its own good. One thing that pops out is the sparse use of score. Most of the film is driven only by the natural elements of any given scene. This allows Herbots to avoid manipulating his audience with overt-scoring, and allows the themes and visuals to do the work for him. While the film is well edited, it does perhaps drag along a little past its welcome, and could potentially be shortened by 10-15 minutes. The acting is all very strong, with the only major misstep dealing not with the casting, necessarily, but depiction of a major player in the film — although delving into it to much would offer spoilers that would affect the enjoyment of a first time watch, so I will refrain from going further. While there are a great deal of elements in The Treatment that feel familiar, it could probably not have been made in the USA in its current form. Its not only the dark subject matter, it’s the manner in which everything is handled, the way that characters (even protagonists) are depicted. It’s a film that film that refuses to be simple, rather offering a story that feels authentic to real life horrors. While there are few (some quite major) missteps along the way, The Treatment is one of the best neo-noirs to be released in some time.

Hans Herbots's The Treatment (2014) [click to enlarge]

Hans Herbots’s The Treatment (2014) [click to enlarge]

Artsploitation Film’s most recent release, Cub, is a title that Diabolique has been keen on for some time. Cub had a relatively lively presence on the festival circuit but despite playing some of the best festivals in the world, like The Treatment, the film did not get a lot of chance to be seen theatrically in the US. An early selling point of the film was the score, which is composed by Zombi’s Steve Moore. Released around the same time as The Guest (also scored by Moore), for Cub Moore offers a slightly more reserved piece. While it sounds like his work, its darker and more brooding than his effort on The Guest, which is much more indebted to 80s synth.

Cub begins as any Slasher typically would. A group of young cub scouts drive out into the wilderness for a weekend retreat. When their campgrounds are occupied by a hostile duo, the group is forced to relocate even deeper in the woods. It is not long before things start to take a turn. First, its small. The campers notice their belongings are vanishing, there are strange noises, but this quickly devolves into darker territories.

Jonas Govaerts's Cub (2014) [click to enlarge]

Jonas Govaerts’s Cub (2014) [click to enlarge]

Cub is a studied film. There are countless references (some slight, some apparent) littered throughout the work. From the Suspiria ringtones to the Fulci-esque eye fixations, to nods to Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even (I would argue) Cannibal Holocaust. In some ways, it’s a spin on the Slasher cycle that also introduces elements of rural killer films (think The Hills Have Eyes). Among all of these references is still a very interesting film, a surprisingly strong debut from Jonas Govaerts. The film is confidently shot and Govaerts gives the realistic wooded location an almost ethereal quality — looking both staged and natural at the same time. This mix of tones works in the film’s favor, as Cub — driven by its young, imaginative protagonist — constantly seems to be balancing realism with fantasy.

Like The Treatment much of the success of Cub relies on the director’s willingness to allow his film to be dark. While it is clearly indebted to the American Slasher, much of Cub’s events will leave its viewer’s shocked. Its not extreme gore, although there is a fair share of bloody kills, but the who and why that will leave you on your feet. Admittedly, the script is a tad weak and one of the important aspects of the final reveal may be obvious to some viewers (this reviewer saw it coming after about a half hour in), the film is still a very worthwhile spin on a genre due for a comeback. The weakest aspect of the film probably comes with the Rube Goldberg-style death traps (a little too reminiscent of the Saw franchise), but it does lead to some fun kills. Ultimately, Cub is a fantastic debut that hopefully will lead to even better work for the young director.

Jonas Govaerts's Cub (2014) [click to enlarge]

Jonas Govaerts’s Cub (2014) [click to enlarge]

While the jury is still out on them (and many of their naysayers rely on pseudoscience to bash it), it will please most to hear that Artsploitation has finally made the switch away from BD-R discs. I believe that for The Treatment they are not offering a replacement (although I could be wrong), but Cub comes as a legitimate Blu-ray rom disc (and even comes with a embroidered patch to boot). Both of these films offer a bleak spin for contemporary cinema and come highly recommended for those that like to be challenged by their viewing experiences. While Cub has fun with its form, The Treatment will inevitably be a bit too pessimistic for some viewers. These releases only further prove just how important Artsploitation Films is to American distribution.

Jonas Govaerts's Cub (2014) [click to enlarge]

Jonas Govaerts’s Cub (2014) [click to enlarge]

Artsploitation Films jumped on the scene for North American distribution in a big way in the last few years, filling a much needed gap in the allocation/distribution of a certain kind of film for NA distribution. Self-described as ”not strictly a genre label,” they rather, “look for intriguing, unsettling, unpredictable and provocative films from around the world.” It’s hard to argue with their own assessment. In their relatively short lifespan, the label has championed genre-pushing films like Toad Road, Horsehead, and Der Samurai. They have proven themselves to be one of America’s most daring distributors, giving homes to films that would…

Review Overview

The Film: The Treatment
The Film: Cub

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About Joe Yanick

Joe Yanick is a writer, videographer, and film/music critic based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the former Managing Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Noisey.vice.com, and Stagebuddy.com. In addition, he has worked with the Cleveland International Film Festival as a Feature reviewer. He is currently a Cinema Studies MA Candidate at New York University.

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