Imagine waking up in a room, enclosed with equal sides all around, with no recollection of how you got there. With you are about five other people, some already awake, others in the process of emerging from sleep. You fervently rub your eyes and try to swallow that rising bubble of panic in your throat as the realization hits, you aren’t dreaming. There are hatches on each wall that wind open and almost immediately you, along with the confused others, are attempting to escape through the exits. Yet, through some of these openings you are confronted with uncertain death as you witness the poor bastard who by chance walked into another room before you get his face dissolved by acid. The only thing to do now is attempt to figure out a pattern that will enable an escape route in the seemingly endless rubix cube that you find yourself trapped in. Thus is the plot of Vincenzo Natali’s Cube.
Cube’s premise is fairly unique, a fact that I can’t help but respect. Natali mixes subtle horror, thrilling tension, and tops it with an existential allegory about the meaning of life, incorporating it all into a puzzle that’s hard to decipher and furthermore lacks any explanation, forcing viewers to endure the pain of ignorance just as Cube’s characters have to. Of the six people stuck in a room together, some come and go while viewers can’t help but feel a slight visceral fear deep down as Natali’s framing and camerawork directly places us in each small cubic room that the characters find themselves in. Through fabulous set design, the air of tension and pressure is almost unbearable. At times, seeing characters perspire in their hot, enclosed space nearly put beads of sweat on my forehead.
Though the idea of Cube is commendable, its execution is severely weak. Some of that can be chalked up to its 90s-ness, but most of that is because of Natali’s amateur directing and John Sanders’s shoddy editing. The film loses its punch due to disorienting moments of capturing action. During the film’s climatic final act the editing becomes unbearable. As characters rush to leave the cube and encounter the manic rage of a member, it’s hard to even decipher what is happening and how due to the camera whipping around and scenes barely playing out in their entirety before revealing the following consequence. By the end, I was more confused as to what happened in the cube than what was going on outside of it.
What is going on inside this place? Seriously… what? I can’t keep up with all the half-assed edits.
In high school, I was in drama club. Unfortunately, because our school believed in putting its money and support into our football team more than most of the extracurricular activities, the theater department suffered, becoming the forgotten red-headed stepchild of activities. Our club leader was the school’s cheerleading coach, a job that required her to miss about 90% of our practices and meetings, prompting the 12 of us in the department to coach ourselves in a crappy one act play we were involved in about the dangers of drugs. For whatever reason, we thought we were good enough to participate in a regional competition in which we placed 6th place out of five teams (the 6th team never showed up). In short, we sucked.
However, had Natali directed his cast from Cube in the competition with us, I’m sure they’d become the reigning losers in 7th place. The acting in Cube is awful, worse than whatever bullcrap emotions we tried to muster up as 16-year-olds. For starters, Maurice Dean Wint as police officer and de factor leader, Quentin, tries really hard, but his bug-eyed angry performance caused me to burst out laughing numerous times instead of taking his slow decline into raging insanity seriously.
“Over acting? Well somebody’s gotta make up for the lack of talent in this cast!”
The worst character, however, is Nicole de Boer as Leaven. Casting director Deirdre Bowen deserves to be called out directly and shamed for bringing Boer on board. In fact, Natali’s decision to cast Boer must have been because of her casting couch skills. I’ve never hated a character within the first 10 minutes of meeting them in a film unless I was supposed to, and in Cube I wasn’t meant to. Boer makes her book-wormish, intellectual character so much of a see-you-next-Tuesday that throughout the entire film I was praying she’d be the next to meet a brutal death. All of her lines are delivered with an unnecessary sass, as though she has an asshole with a chip on its shoulder attached to her mouth. Also, her emotional scenes are worse than watching a child fake cry in a mirror, while the fear she attempts to convey seems as though she believed her danger came from standing up in a cardboard box as opposed to being trapped in steel one.
The biggest disappointing factor of Cube is that by the end we learn little to nothing about why or how these people came to be trapped in the cube. We get a slight explanation of why it was created and the randomness of its existence, but it all seems contradictory considering the film spends much of its time focusing on pointing out the specific abilities and skill sets that each character brings to the table, leading us to believe that there is a distinct reason everyone is there. To argue that there simply isn’t one would be as if Alice in Wonderland ended right when the red queen wanted off with Alice’s head, without Lewis Carroll ever revealing it was all a dream. The whole story is pointless nonsense otherwise.
I liked the idea of Cube and I respect its attempt to be a thought-provoking psychological thriller. Despite its 90s cheesiness, it’s an intriguing film to watch if you’ve never seen it before. Yet, to treat it like it is something completely innovative and new is an injustice to previous stories of the type that have been done right. “The Twilight Zone” episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit” has virtually the same plot and structure as Cube. Nevertheless, “The Twilight Zone” happened to tell a powerfully unique story with an explanation of why these poor souls are trapped in their situation and also delivers an adequate conclusion in about 22 minutes. A task that apparently took Cube three films to do.
Take a Drink: every time Kazan freaks out and starts yelling.
Take a Drink: every time a color is mentioned
Take a Drink: every time there’s a play on words, i.e. “Is that your two cents worth, Worth?” “For what it’s worth.”
Take a Drink: every time Quentin loses his shit.
Take a Drink: for every room with a trap.