Short Film Review: The Cub.
Riley Stearns’ short about unconventional parenting is a howl.
Gearing up for the expansion of The Art of Self Defense this week, I decided to check out more of director Riley Stearns’ filmography. It is delightfully packed with short films! This entry, a selection at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, may not have a deep bite, but its story of a girl raised by wolves has plenty of absurdist humor.
The Cub (2013).
A family stands at the edge of a clearing: mother, father, and a five year old girl. In order to give their precocious offspring any edge they can in the competitive modern world, they strike a bargain with a pack of wolves. The canines will raise their daughter in return for tasty prime beef, and after ten years the humans will take the girl back with her “one of a kind” upbringing. Things…don’t work out so well.
You Talking to Me?
The narrative style consists mainly of the father talking directly to the camera. Sound effects evoke the wolves he’s addressing, but there’s enough direct eye contact to suggest the audience is being addressed as well. I loved this angle. My first viewing was on poor speakers, so I actually didn’t hear the wolf noises. I assumed that Stearns was directly conflating “give daughter to actual wolves” to the idea “send your kids out in the world, to metaphorical wolves.” Even with the sound cues, its still the most striking angle of the story.
For the Laughs.
For a five minute film, there’s a strong three act structure. Given the ending, it’s more a “frame, set-up, punch-line” structure. Even still, I was interested in where the shoe would fall. The piece oozes dark satire. I could easily see the final act twist the knife instead of drop a gag. As such, I thought the final bit was solid, but not as delightfully satirical as I was hoping.
The Cub is a fun short film. Interesting choices are made with the camera work. It’s minimalist, which puts a lot of emphasis on dialogue and facial expression, which the cast does well with. Much of the force of the film’s ideas comes from subtext, so the minimalism really serves the narrative. It delivers a funny, absurdist ending, though there was more meat on the bone. If we’d seen the girl return to the clearing every ten years, with the absurdity of her human/wolf training getting more apparent, I would have been thrilled. As it stands, Stearns delivers an engaging short worth your time.
*You can catch this short in its entirety on Vimeo here.