Interview with Jonas Govaerts, the director of Cub

Our film editor Helina Koldek asked a director called Jonas Govaerts some questions and found out quite a lot about his film art and some about the horror film tradition in Belgium. His film The Cub will be shown on  Sunday at Haapsalu and it is also special, because Flamish cinema is  in the spotlight at this year’s HÕFF (Haapsalu Horror and Fantasy Film Festival).

Tell us something about your background and how you got into filmmaking.

I’ve loved watching movies for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until I found Evil Dead 2 in the local video store that I figured, ‘Hey, maybe actually making movies can be fun too!’ There’s something about the manic energy of that movie that’s very inspiring.

You’ve told that the very first idea for Cub came when you were 12 years old and a boy scout yourself. So how much resemblance there is between the movie plot and your own experiences? I can see that at least you came out alive but…

However weird it sounds, Cub is actually pretty autobiographical. So much so that after the premiere, I got calls from the other kids in my old scout troop, who wanted to know where I found those lookalikes of their younger selves! I really had two leaders called Chris and Peter, I had a crush on the scout cook, I’d get into fights with the local youths at our campsite… And my middle name is Sam, the same as the lead character. So you’re not wrong: apart from the bloodshed, Cub paints a pretty accurate picture of my youth.

Why horror? Is this genre in any way more special for you than other genres?

I love all genres, but horror was my first love, and always will be. I get an almost visceral kick out of a good horror movie, much like when I listen to a good punk or metal song. Horror helps me purge.

How is it to make a horror movie in Belgium? Do you feel that you can do just about anything that comes into your mind without too much pressure and restrictions or is it hard to stick with your plans? And I don’t mean because of the budgetary reasons.

Before Cub, the last Belgian horror film released was Daughters of Darkness, made 43 years earlier. So we have no real horror tradition in Belgium, at least not in the cinema. Because of that, I found I could pretty much do what I wanted with Cub. The people funding the movie were apparently unaware of unwritten horror rules like You can’t kill kids, or You can’t hurt animals. In fact, despite the gore and high body count in the film, the Belgian censorship board initially gave Cub an All Ages rating – assuming that a movie featuring kids would automatically be suitable for kids. In short, I was able to get away with quite a lot in Cub.

But do you have any limits as a movie watcher? For example, are there any subjects or approaches that you find unconditionally unacceptable?

A movie can do anything, except bore me.

If you could choose only one what would you prefer in a movie – a good story or a good atmosphere?

Atmosphere, no doubt. To me, movies are dreamcatchers: they don’t have to make sense, I just want to be transported. If I want plot, I’ll watch TV instead.

Are there any specific films or directors that have influenced you or your cinematic style?

Plenty, but the film I always return to, is Michele Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore, a zombie comedy about a gravedigger with an existential crisis. It’s simultaneously funny and scary; sexy and disgusting; profound and low-brow; messy and masterful. It’s also my cinematic 8-ball: if I have a problem, I’ll put on Dellamorte Dellamore, and it will give me the answer.

Could you recommend some really good but maybe less-known movies to our readers and HÕFF-goers?

There are a few films of which I’m still not sure if they really exist, or if I made them up. The Dark Backward, about a stand-up comedian with an extra arm growing out of his back. Singapore Sling, a Greek, gory neo-noir about incest. The Birthday, a Spanish apocalypse comedy told in real-time for no reason.

What are you working on right now and what are your future plans? Are there any particular ideas you definitely want to address in the future?

I’ve just finished work on a Flemish horror series called Tabula Rasa, which is currently streaming on Netflix. Hopefully, I’ll get to make another movie next. My dream is to make a horror film in every major subgenre: a zombie flick, a creature feature, a ghost movie… And of course, a Flemish apocalypse comedy told in real-time for no reason.