Cube (1997)

2008 #83a
Vincenzo Natali | 87 mins | DVD | 15 / R

CubeI’ve seen Cube a couple of times before, but, as I’ve watched it again immediately before taking on the two heavily-criticised sequels, I thought it might be worth throwing in my opinion on the original too.

Cube has a deceptively simple concept — a sci-fi/horror/mystery in which six strangers are trapped together trying to escape a series of cube-shaped rooms, some of which contain deadly traps — but within that it pulls a lot together. The major element, arguably, is the mystery of what the cube is — where is it, who built it, how does it work, why are those people there, is there a way out? Some of these questions are answered but, crucially, not all of them, and it’s partly due to this, ironically, that it’s a satisfying experience. In its series of careful, measured, necessary reveals, the film strikes a perfect balance between what it lets the viewer know — and the revelations are expertly paced throughout — and what it keeps hidden, either for the viewer to deduce or interpret for themselves, or simply because one doesn’t need to know.

Within the cube and its mystery there are the characters. Depending on your point of view they’re either well-drawn sketches interacting realistically in an unrealistic situation, or archetypes representing different facets of humanity, or simply chess pieces to move the clever construction — of both plot and setting — forward. At times the movie does work like a slasher-horror, picking off characters one by one, but after a few grisly deaths it rather transcends that. The scenes where characters debate and argue aren’t quite as engrossing as when they’re puzzling over the cube, but nor do they drag. Not all the performances are good — Maurice Dean Wint in particular lets the side down for much of the film — but the character arcs are never less than believable and well considered.

Cube manages to effectively juggle gruesome horror deaths, sci-fi mysteries, an awful lot of maths (don’t worry, you don’t need to understand it) and character-based drama. It’s a brilliant low-budget (not that it shows) understated film, which seems to have been somewhat forgotten these days, probably under the weight of the two widely derided and unnecessary follow-ups. But that remains for me to see. Whatever they may be like, everyone interested in the more intelligent end of the sci-fi spectrum should see Cube.

5 out of 5

For a brief overview of the Cube trilogy, please look here.

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