Cube (1997), dir. Vincenzo Natali
It doesn’t take long to realize that Cube, in terms of its logistics, is a very cleverly conceived film—it’s built upon an intricate gimmick, and boasts some pretty intriguing interplay between a set of overtly stereotyped characters. It is unfortunately a very superficial film, as there really isn’t much else to it aside from what I’ve already described. Had I seen it closer to its date of release, I probably would have held a more favorable opinion of it. But in the past decade or so, we’ve been inundated with films such as Cube—films that rest upon the belief that as long as there’s an original plot device it can be successfully carried to the fore. A more recent example of what I’m describing would be Christopher Nolan’s Inception, which had the audacity to assume it could win its audience over with a single idea: dreams within dreams. But nothing was ever really at stake in the film; so as it is with Cube.
Cube is a simple escape story, set in complicated surroundings. The film’s seven heroes are inexplicably cast into giant cube, consisting of countless small chambers, many of which contain deadly booby traps of the most diabolically gruesome nature. Sound somewhat familiar? I think the creators of the Saw series must have been inspired by this film. It took some research, but I discovered that the seven prisoners are in fact named after seven real-life prisons, each one in turn exhibiting characteristics of those prisons. There’s Quentin, the police detective (named after San Quentin in California, which is noted for its cruelty), Rennes, the escaped convict (named after a prison in France, known as a model of prison policy), Kazan, the autistic (named after a prison in Russia, noted for its disorganization), among others. The presence of these characters add to the convoluted nature of the film, as each one has a special role to play in the navigation of the cube. Another character, Leaven, who excels in mathematics, slowly learns the secret to the cube’s construction. But it takes the autistic, whose mathematical abilities surpass even Leaven’s own to lead them to the way out.
When I say that there’s nothing at stake in the film, it’s directly due to the superficiality of the characters. They seem to exist merely to serve to the plot device of the film. With that being so apparent it makes it impossible for the viewer to care for them. There’s also an awful lot of bickering in this film, but it’s there mostly to exploit the stereotypical character traits each of the seven possess. In addition, there’s enough mathematical ruminating as they attempt to solve the cube to make one’s head explode. Again, it’s all very cleverly done, but it left me feeling unfulfilled by the end. I tend to be more interested in motives than logistics, and this film offers none of the former.
I can recommend the film on the strength of the performances, which despite the lack of depth the script provides, are effectively conveyed. The art direction, which is quite fascinating, and even more impressive when you consider the film’s low budget. And I can offer some praise to the film’s central plot device—that of the cube itself. It was very carefully conceived, but alas to no end.