Cube (1997)

Starring Maurice Dean Wint, David Hewlett, Nicole de Boer, Nicky Guadagni, Andrew Miller, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson

Directed by Vincenzo Natali

Expectations: Low. I don’t remember liking this.

On the general scale:

On the B-movie scale:

Like a lot of movies I saw in the late ’90s, I’m finding that revisiting them now is a much better experience than watching them then. Back then, my expectations for Cube were through the roof; it seemed like it was everything I could want rolled into one movie. Things like cool science fiction sets, crazy traps and realistic gore FX. But I simply wasn’t ready to appreciate this movie for what it was, as I was ear-deep in my film snob phase and only the best in cinema would suffice.

Nowadays my expectations for movies have changed quite a bit, and I’m more than happy to just roll with the punches as long as the movie is of quality enough to entertain. Cube does entertain, and it does so pretty well, but it’s just shy of being everything that it could be thanks to some questionable, over-the-top acting and some equally questionable writing. But that’s OK, this is a début feature so things like that are bound to come up. And besides, look at that fucking cube set! It’s awesome!

Before I get to why I think Cube is dumb, let me focus on the positive. The cube itself is the star of the show for me and it is incredible. The design of the cube creates an incredible sci-fi world the instant you lay eyes on it. In many of my reviews, I’ve written a lot about how set design can make or break a film, and Cube is the perfect example of a film that is watchable based solely on its art design. The premise of the cube and the slowly unfolding nature of its existence are also great, consistently keeping the viewer engaged and interested in figuring out what’s going on.

Conversely, because Cube is low-budget (and I’m sure a good portion of that budget went into building the cube set), there just aren’t enough traps to satiate the horror fan within me. It’s a stretch to really call this a horror movie — it’s more of a sci-fi thriller — but it’s enough of a horror movie to make you want to see the characters meet some grisly deaths. Especially when two incredibly well-realized deaths happen within the first 15 minutes. Pretty much every character death after that point isn’t trap related, and is therefore not as good or as memorable as it could have been. I understand why it is the way it is, and it works fine as it is, I just would have liked some more inventive deaths. Call me a sadist, if you must.

Cube is also annoying because it’s mostly people yelling at each other. This type of movie always gets on my nerves, and Cube is no different. Thankfully, Cube is more interesting than it is boring, so I was never annoyed enough to stop being entertained. That being said, probably my favorite scene in the film (not counting the awesome slice-and-dice opening) is when the characters decide that in order to continue their journey through the cube maze, they must cross a sound-based trap room. They silently make their way through the room one by one, and the tension is molasses-thick. If only there were more moments when they wrote in excuses for the characters not to yell at each other.

In spite of my nags, I did enjoy Cube quite a bit this time around. I thought it was great that they never explained much about the cube or its purpose, instead posing questions and leaving the answers for the audience to decide. I’m sure the sequels will be more exploitative, especially because the original creators weren’t involved, and all that fun, ambiguous mystery will be unceremoniously shattered. I honestly don’t know how they would even make a sequel to this, as it seems to have run its course well-enough here. But we’ll see about that next week!

Cube was a Reader’s Choice selection from Rodney of Fernby Films.

6 comments to Cube (1997)

  • Good review! I hadn’t seen Cube until about 2 years ago. I enjoyed it the first time out and I am going to re-visit it again soon to see if holds up for me. Based on your review alone though I feel that I may still like it. Thanks!

    • Thanks! I think it should hold up well. It’s pretty enjoyable and having recently watched the second one for review next week, it seems even better. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

  • Matt Reifschneider

    I love this film immensely, but it does have its faults. The other films don’t even touch this one and much of the practical effects are replaced with CGI in the second one.

    • It definitely has faults, but it’s still enjoyable despite them. There’s a lot to love here, for sure. I just watched part 2 and was very disappointed in the lack of the traditional traps of this one… Oh well. I’m hoping the third one is better.

      • Thanks for reviewing this puppy, my friend! Awesome work – you touch on some valid points about it being more a sci-fi thriller than an outright horror film, and I agree that after the first couple of kills it becomes more human-violence driven than cube-driven; I don’t think this is a bad thing, but it does lessen the impact.

        What I really enjoyed about this film was the increasing paranoia inherent in the concept, and how things were left “unexplained” to the point where you could just taste what was going on, but not be able to swallow it. The exact reasons and motivations for the cube were never clear cut (at least, not definitively so) and that made the tension seem more realistic.

        Agree about Cube 2: Hypercube, which takes the concent and trashes it with CGI and no respect for the original, while Cube Zero (the third film) tries to bring us full circle in a way (it’s better than 2, but not the original). Can’t wait to read your thoughts on Hypercube!

        • Thanks! And there’s definitely a lot more “Reader’s Choice” content to come!

          Yeah, the human kills aren’t necessarily a bad thing, and they work with the story of the film, I was just disappointed that we never really got a good trap kill after the opening section. I hope the third one doesn’t delve too deep into the origins of the cube. The second one definitely revealed more about it, but those were probably the best aspects of that one. More on Hypercube next week. And while I agree about the horrid CG on that one, I like the conceit that some time has passed and that cube is essentially Cube 2.0 (or 3.0, etc).

          Glad to hear that the third is better than the second, although I don’t think that’d be too hard!

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