– Summary –
Director : Vincenzo Natali
Year Of Release : 1997
Principal Cast : Maurice Dean Wint, Nicole De Boer, Nicky Gaudagni, David Hewlett, Andrew Miller, Wayne Robson, Julian Richings.
Approx Running Time : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: A group of stangers awake inside an enormous cube-structure, variously safe or booby-trapped. As they try to figure out how to escape, gradually they each meet certain death.
What we think : There’s a reason this film is a cult classic. Sci-fi terror doesn’t come much more cerebral and nerve-wracking than this, Vincenzo Natali’s low-budget stunner. Sweaty, nervous, electrifying: Cube is dynamite.
One of the great sci-fi thrillers of the nineties, Cube was a brilliant example of isolationist terrorism, as a group of seemingly disparate characters wake up inside interconnected rooms that appear to be a) moving, and b) booby trapped.
The premise of Cube is fairly simple. The execution of the story, in the minimalist set, is diabolically difficult, yet pulled off in this instance with panache and style, of not a certain sense of sadism. Filmed in Canada and released in 1997, Cube set a new benchmark for psychological thrillers, and gave audiences a new series of nightmares.
The cast of relative unknowns is presented as a bunch of very different people. They appear from the surface to come from all walks of life, and are all different socially, economically and emotionally. As humanistic as they can be in their surreal situation, they band together to try and make their way out of the maze of cubic rooms and to find the “outside”. Each room has an entry/exit point on each of the four walls, and floor and ceiling of each room. Each room is a cube, connected by a small crawlspace to another room almost identical to the other, with the exception of color. Some rooms are safe, and other rooms contain deadly booby-traps. There is no reason given as to why they are there, how they are there or what the motivations of their captors are: the audience discovers things as the cast do. Slowly, the captives begin to battle not only hunger, stress and exhaustion, but each other, as their unstable emotional states begin to remove the mental blocks holding them together as humans.
As the group moves between rooms, trying to find the exit to the Cube using mathematical computations based on numbers located in the crawlspaces, things become more and more desperate, and gradually more is revealed about the characters and their motivations.
The self imposed leader of the captives is Quentin, a cop who slowly gets more and more violent the longer they remain inside the cube. He appears at the start to be relatively composed, able to handle pressure and stress, although even he is pushed to breaking point eventually. Leaven, a young maths student who manages to cobble together some kind of plan with her exceptional computational skills, is both empathetic and strong willed, she doesn’t take Quentin’s crap lightly, and is perhaps the most distressed of all the cubes prisoners.
Helen Holloway, a doctor, is perhaps the biggest linking character in the film: her respect for her fellow prisoners and her ability to calm any situation present a great deal of stress for her, and while she finds herself initially in cahoots as fellow leader of the group with Quentin, eventually the two clash and things come to a head. Along for the ride is Kazan, an autistic boy who manages to surprise everybody, even though he’s annoying as hell; Rennes, a fugitive from prison who doesn’t like authority, and likes even less Quentin’s assumed leadership over the group.
The film is a slow burn to the conclusion, developing it’s characters slowly until the finale, when all bets are off. The terror and increasing feeling of claustrophobia is intense, building and building within both the cast and viewer until the very end, the denouement is a crystallizing moment for the audience as our heroes and villains meet the end with obscure emotive qualities and a sense of depressive intent.
The film is dark. Very dark. Tonally, this is a depressing, wallowing malevolent film, with nary a moment of levity anywhere to be felt. There is only the barest hint of humour from the cast, some one-liners early on in the film that counteract a seemingly harrowing narrative. However, the final act of the film is truly terrifying, with the race to survive overtaking any other emotive quality on display. As a film, it’s hardly one you can recommend for a simple Sunday afternoon gag-fest What it is, is a look inside your own psyche: what would you do in a similar situation. The metaphors abound in this film: each character, I found out later, is named after a prison. The mathematical logic within the film has been debated ad-nauseum by fans and critics alike; often complementary but sometimes not so, unless you’re somebody with a maths degree from University, you will probably let the science of this film wash over you with little impact. It’s kind of like watching Star Trek where the technobabble outdoes the dramatics of the story.
Director Vincenzo Natali crafts a wonderfully deep storyline together with some excellent casting, acting and production design. While perhaps minimalist to a certain degree, the tension within the film, derived from the cast and their rapidly devolving social skills, is razor sharp and delightful to watch. Cube as a film is like being intellectually strapped to a rack and stretched beyond breaking point, and by the end of it all, you’re left feeling, well, hollow and numb. You’ve witnessed the breakdown of humanity, the depravity and horror that accompanies this social disease is perfectly realized on screen.
Cube will haunt you, make you think, and most certainly leave you drained. Gory, horrific and truly tense, Cube is one of the better low-budget thrillers of the modern age.