Sometimes good movies just find their audience. Such is the case with the 1997 independent Canadian sci-fi/horror hybrid, Cube. After Cube screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, it only saw a marginal theatrical release. But late-night showings on cable television and VHS gave this Kafkaesque thriller a much-deserved second chance. Followed by two so-so sequels and a recent Japanese remake, Cube quickly earned cult status even if critics were only mildly impressed.
Six strangers wake up trapped inside a high tech cube-shaped room. No one knows how they ended up here. Someone stripped them of their clothes and dressed them in the same jumpsuits. They’re surrounded by six doors that lead to one cube-shaped room after another. But deadly booby traps wait for them in some of these rooms. Despite their differences, these strangers will have to work to figure why they’ve been selected and how to escape the ‘Cube’.
Cube a Smart Blend of Ideas and Suspenseful Story-Telling
At the time of its release, Cube boasted a relatively unique premise. Two decades removed from Saw and the ‘Torture Porn‘ craze of the 2000s, its story feels familiar. So its no small deal that this little independent Canadian sci-fi thriller had such an impact, intended or otherwise. Writer and director Vincenzo Natali – and co-writers André Bijelic and Graeme Manson – crafted an intelligent, concept-driven story, which places its violent traps in the background. The mystery around the structure’s deadly puzzles and the ambiguous Kafkaesque bureaucracy behind them drives the movie. While some viewers may feel lost as Cube draws increasingly upon mathematics, it never loses sight of its human elements.
…Cube moves along at a tight pace, increasing the suspense incrementally, and never feeling its 90s minutes.
Even in 1997, however, Cube’s production values and visual effects felt stretched by its own premise. What you get here wouldn’t have looked out of place in an episode of The Outer Limits. Shaky computer-generated effects occasionally threated to take you out of the story. But Natali focuses on characters and ideas, limiting the need for effects. Moreover, Cube moves along at a tight pace, increasing the suspense incrementally, and never feeling its 90 minutes. Natali et al’s ambiguous ending accomplishes exactly what it should – you’re left thinking about the movie long after its over.
Cube a Little More Thin On Characters
Though it’s not inaccurate to say Cube is also character-driven, it’s also only partially true. Each of the characters seems intended to serve a particular trait or role. For example, Maurice Dean Wint’s police officer Quentin serves as the group’s increasingly violent force of fascism. As such, none of the characters feel like more than one-dimensional ideas. No one has much of a defined character arc. Still the characterizations feel like they’re in keeping with a story about a social experiment forcing disparate personalities to work together.
Each of the characters seems intended to sever a particular trait or role.
Despite thin characters, most of the performances are on target, if not a bit mixed. A couple of future Wrong Turn alumni – Julian Richings and Wayne Robson – are on hand briefly. On one hand, Wint’s descent into violent paranoia feels forced and broad. Both Nicole de Boer and Nicky Guadagni are fine when the material doesn’t stretch their range too far. Aside from Richings, David Hewlett is the movie’s most recognizable face. A mainstay of Canadian film and television in the 90s and 2000s, Hewlett turns in the movie’s most assured performance.
Cube Embodies the Best of Low-Budget Sci-Fi
Yes, Cube had some flaws stemming from its lower budget that haven’t aged well. And its characters – as well as some of the performances – are a bit one-dimensional. In spite of these limitations, however, Cube is an engrossing mix of science fiction and thriller. Never for a moment dull, its ideas and commentary on human nature still resonate. Its fingerprints are all over a handful of movies that followed, included the Saw franchise. Though it’s a little more on the obscure side, this is a 90s movie worth re-visiting.