Cube (1997) review

Cube posterDirector: Vincenzo Natali

Starring: Maurice Dean Wint, David Hewlett, Nicole De Boer, Nicky Guadagni, Andrew Miller, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson

“It’s all the same machine, right? The Pentagon, multinational corporations, the police. If you do one little job, you build a widget in Saskatoon, and the next thing you know, it’s two miles under the desert, the essential component of a death machine. I was right! All along, my whole life, I knew it! I told you, Quentin. Nobody’s ever going to call me paranoid again! We’ve gotta get out of here and blow the lid off this thing!” (Holloway, Cube)

I’m a sucker for low-budget mystery films that put extra focus on their script to make up for their lack of grandeur elsewhere. Sometimes you get the most out of a storyline when you’ve got the least to work with.

Recent examples include Exam – in which eight candidates are sat in front of desks, given a blank sheet of piece of paper and told to answer ‘the question’ – and Devil, in which five strangers are trapped in an elevator also occupied by a nasty presence. Guess what it is.

Cube is similar to these in that the majority of the film was shot in a single room, although here it acts as a number of similar rooms. Look, it’ll make sense in a minute.

After a sneaky false opening in which the apparent sole protagonist is sliced and diced within a minute, Cube properly kicks off with the real characters of the piece.

In fairness, as far as five minutes of fame go, this is a pretty good use of it
In fairness, as far as five minutes of fame go, this is a pretty good use of it

Awakening in individual cube-shaped rooms with no idea how they got there, the film’s six prisoners eventually end up in the same room and decide to put their heads together to find out what’s going on and, more importantly, how to escape.

This is much easier said than done, especially when most members of the group have some sort of questionable character trait that makes the others dislike them.

Take Quentin, for example. A police officer outside the cube, Quentin brings it upon himself to take charge of proceedings. Trouble is, he’s a bit of a control freak and more than a little rapey to boot.

Another chap called Worth confesses that he’s an architect and was contracted to design part of the cube, a relevation that goes down about as well as a pint of piss.

Stanley had never heard his child use THAT word before
Stanley had never heard his child use THAT word before

Then there’s Holloway, a doctor who could probably do with seeing a shrink of her own, due to her paranoid belief in government conspiracies.

Meanwhile, Rennes is a criminal who prides himself on his ability to escape from prison, having done so seven times in the past, which naturally doesn’t make Coppy McCop too chuffed.

And then there’s Leaven, a student in her early 20s who’s something of a maths whizz. She seems to be the nicest one of the bunch, but even she’s capable of a dark side as is shown later on.

Finally, completing the gang is Kazan, an autistic chap who can perform prime number calculations quicker than Jeremy Beadle can count how many dead people he is.

While Kazan’s not a nasty person as such, his inability to completely control his faculties makes him an nuisance – and a potential liability – to some of his less hospitable cubemates.

"Hey, there's a KFC across the road from this hotel"
“Hey, it looks like there’s a KFC across the road from this hotel”

In other words then, it’s the ideal group of misfits: a power-hungry arsehole, a slippery criminal, a conspiracy nut, a boffin, a guy who may know more than he lets on and a lad with special needs.

Not to worry, all they have to do is get out of the cube and they don’t have to see each other ever again, right?

Rather predictably, it’s not quite as easy as that. You see, every room in the cube looks pretty much identical, save for the colour of the walls, making it hard for the group to get their bearings.

You’d think, then, that the natural plan would be to to just head in one direction until you hit an edge and figure it out from there. But that doesn’t really work either, for two reasons.

The first is something that will remain a secret, because it would spoil a big plot point if I told you about it. The second is that some of the rooms are booby-trapped.

"Fuck me, that new extra strength Clearasil is the business"
“Fuck me, that new extra strength Clearasil is the business”

I don’t mean booby-trapped in a prankish way, like the floor being covered in marbles or a bucket of stroppy worms dropping on your head as you enter.

I mean booby-trapped in a “fuck, I’m dead” way, like razor wires cutting you into tiny bits or flamethrowers melting your face.

To keep things interesting, the triggers to set off these traps are different too. Usually the floor is touch-sensitive, so you can easily test a room by throwing a boot onto the ground before you enter.

But sometimes it’s a sound-sensitive room: not ideal when the autistic chap has a tendency to involuntarily shout out at times. And other times it could be something different, like heat-sensitive.

In short, travelling around the cube is a massive ball-ache, not least because entering the wrong room could leave you with aching balls. Most likely because they’ve been cut or burned off.

It was one of the least enthusiastic selfies Sue had ever taken
It was one of the least enthusiastic selfies Sue had ever taken

Co-operation, then, is the order of the day should the six cubemates want to escape this big square bastard alive. Can they work together for the greater good? Guess.

Cube is a cracking wee film. Despite its small budget of around $365,000 (that’s in Canadian dollars, mind) it looks fantastic, the set design giving real character to what is essentially a load of empty boxes.

The plot is well-paced, with revelations popping up with brisk regularity and keeping things ticking along nicely, and it’s just refreshing to have a sci-fi film that doesn’t try to dumb itself down a little to appeal to a wider audience.

Indeed, when you’re dealing with a film that features Cartesian coordinates and the powers of prime numbers among its plot devices, it’s to Cube’s credit that you don’t get lost and instead feel like a bloody boffin by the end of it.

"In a second I'm going to push my glasses up my nose because I'm well nerdy innit"
“In a second I’m going to push my glasses up my nose because I’m well nerdy innit”

Its only slight downside is the dialogue, which is a little clichéd at times. Each time Quentin goes off on one it feels a tad hackneyed, for example.

That aside, Cube feels like a modern version of a vintage ‘50s Twilight Zone episode. In fact, that may not be a surprise, as anyone who’s seen the episode Five Characters In Search Of An Exit will agree.

It’s similar to the likes of Night Of The Living Dead in that it’s a compelling study of the way the human race is sometimes incapable of working together despite how imperative it may seem. Just don’t expect a clean ending that explains everything.

trev_newtrev_newtrev_newtrev_new

Cube’s rating earns it a place in the hallowed That Was A Bit Mental Hall Of Fame. Click here to see what else made the grade. It’s also bonkers enough to make the TWABM Proper Mental list.

HOW CAN I SEE IT?
UK readers can enjoy Cube in all its cubey goodness on either DVD or Blu-ray. Those in the US can only get it on DVD.

Brits who are made of money can also buy the long out-of-print Cube Trilogy DVD set, which contains Cube, sequel Cube 2 and prequel Cube Zero. Which tastes just like full-fat Cube but has no calories.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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2 thoughts on “Cube (1997) review

  1. I absolutely love this film. It’s in My Top 50 Horror Films post.

    As to where you can see it, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen the film on Netflix, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there was also a copy on YouTube. That’s where most Canadian films are viewed, isn’t it? :-p

  2. Excellent movie indeed, never truly succeeded by Hypercube and Zero. Chris, you mention Devil and Exam, which are pretty good as well. Can you think of other movies similar to these?

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