Cube (1997)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #21

Don’t look for a reason.
Look for a way out.

Country: Canada
Language: English
Runtime: 90 minutes
BBFC: 15
MPAA: R

Original Release: 11th July 1998 (Netherlands)
UK Release: 25th September 1998
First Seen: TV, c.2000

Stars
Maurice Dean Wint (Rude, Nothing)
David Hewlett (Scanners II: The New Order, Cypher)
Nicole de Boer (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Corrupt)
Nicky Guadagni (Crash, Lars and the Real Girl)
Wayne Robson (Interstate 60: Episodes of the Road, Survival of the Dead)

Director
Vincenzo Natali (Cypher, Splice)

Screenwriters
Andre Bijelic
Vincenzo Natali (Splice, In the Tall Grass)
Graeme Manson (Rupert’s Land, Orphan Black)

The Story
Six strangers wake up inside a mysterious 14-foot cube, its walls covered with circuit-like designs and each wall containing a door… which leads to another cube, identical but for the colour scheme. They soon realise that some of these rooms are boobytrapped with death-dealing devices. If they combine their different backgrounds and strengths, perhaps they can find a way out…

Our Heroes
The six individuals we follow are a fractious bunch. You may side with one or two, but at any given moment something might happen to make you rethink who should or should not be trusted.

Our Villain
The Cube itself is the enemy here… although with the amount our group fight amongst themselves, maybe it’s not the only problem…

Best Supporting Character
Part way through the film, our gang come across Kazan, who clearly has some kind of mental problem. I thought Andrew Miller’s performance was decent, but pretty much every other review of the film criticises all of the acting, and I’ve never seen Rain Man (a regular point of comparison), so who knows?

Memorable Quote
Holloway: “What does it want? What is it thinking?”
Worth: “‘One down, four to go.'”

Memorable Scene
The opening scene, which quickly establishes the danger of the environment so succinctly and memorably that Resident Evil ripped it off a few years later.

Technical Wizardry
The characters move through many rooms in the cube, a challenge for a low-budget production… unless, of course, all the rooms are nearly identical: there was only one cube set, with coloured panels changed to suggest the different spaces.

Making of
All of the characters are named after famous prisons around the world. Not only that, but their personalities reflect the characteristics of those prisons. To say too much might spoil parts of the film for those who’ve not seen it, but the curious can find a fuller explanation here.

Next time…
There are two sequels to Cube, Hypercube and Cube Zero, each worse than the last. Don’t waste your time.

Awards
1 Saturn nomination (Home Video Release)
Toronto International Film Festival — Best Canadian First Feature Film

What the Critics Said
“They don’t agree on the best course of action, and might one of them be a spy for whomever is in charge? The grating mechanical noises that echo through the Cube all around them seem to be the manifestation of the stress they’re under, stress they act out on one another. Holloway estimates they have only a few days without food and water before they’re too weak to continue, and yet they slow themselves down with their virulent bickering. […] As Rennes says, “Ya gotta save yourselves from yourselves,” and they’re not doing a terribly good job of that.” — MaryAnn Johanson, flickfilosopher

Score: 62%

What the Public Say
“you can’t make [the plot] sound interesting — “for 90 minutes, people move through largely identical cubic rooms that want to kill them”. But it is interesting, mainly, and here’s where the Twilight Zone comparison is useful. […] the cast ends up filling somewhat allegorical roles: the Teacher, the Authoritarian, the Intellect, the Survivalist. And Cube, in finest Rod Serling fashion, plays out as a series of conundrums in which the audience is invited to think about how these different types, that is to say, these different worldviews and moral codes, interact with each other in a patently allegorical environment” — Tim Brayton, Antagony & Ecstasy

Elsewhere on 100 Films
I offered some thoughts on Cube when I watched the two sequels back in 2008: “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. […] everyone interested in the more intelligent end of the sci-fi spectrum should see Cube.”

Verdict

Regular readers will know of my fondness for the single-location thriller. A lot of that likely stems back to Cube, which I think pioneered the form as a popular one for new filmmakers making low-budget genre pictures, and is the yardstick all others must measure up to, at least for me. Throw a mismatched group of characters into a confined, mysterious setting and, hey presto, instant drama. Cube remains one of the best because of both the mysteries of its location, and the pure tension director Vincenzo Natali creates as the cast try to avoid or evade the deadly traps.

Next… yippee-ki-yay, #23 !