Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Manic Movie Month: Cube (1997)

Welcome to manic movie month, a incredibly original idea where besides from reviewing the current metal records, I am reviewing some horror movies, and every year, I am gonna review one horror franchise, from first to last movie. Now, this project starts off late because of the incredible work load of reviews I have done (I can only blame myself for burying me with all these reviews), so why not start this off with a horror franchise that is not a bazillion movies long, a franchise that I think is quite forgotten.

"Cube" is what I consider to be the predecessor to one of the most successful horror franchises of modern time, "Saw". Just like "Saw", "Cube" revolves around traps, and people trying to escape them, while also finding out why they got here in the first place. It is a small budget film directed by Vincenzo Natali, and while it did not make too much from the box office, it did get a cult following and also ended up winning 13 different awards, and an additional 7 nominations, in several film festivals around the globe.

The movie starts with a man waking up in a cubic shaped room, confused and not knowing how he got there. The room also contains 6 doors (one for each side), and after some hesitation, he walks through one to another similar room, only to get killed by a trap. So he is dead, but the rest of the movie revolves around 6 characters with different backgrounds. We got a cop, a doctor, an office worker, a student, a prisoner (whom have escaped several prisons), and a mentally challenged patient. It is an interesting group we got here, and they do not feel like your regular "horror victim" group. Anyway, they understand quickly that they need to work together to even get a chance to escape, using all of their skills and brains to overcome this horrible experience.

Warning: Spoilers from here on, read at your own risk

So the story is nothing really special, it is basic stuff, but it is how it is all presented that is making this movie so exciting. It takes time to get through all the pieces of the puzzle, and it does so without feeling boring or too dragged out. The answer to getting out of here is by math, trying to find the coordinates to each room. It is something about prime numbers, and other shit that was kind of hard to follow with through the movie, but that was probably meant to be so, to make it seem like it was impossible to escape. Wow, who knew that math actually would be useful outside of school.

As stated before, the characters here are interesting, and they are mostly thanks to the actors who play them. While some of them, like Holloway (Nicky Guadagni) and Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint), are sometimes overplayed, the acting here is pretty good for this budget. But the character Worth nagged me a bit, because I knew I had seen him before. Turns out, the actor is David Hewlett, and I had seen him before, in "Stargate: Atlantis", where he plays that nerdy, but overly smart, Dr. Rodney McKay. He does a great performance, playing a man who has nothing to live for and thinks he deserves this punishment. Such a shame though that he is not doing all the math, because would have been fitting, but he and Andrew Miller (Kazan) are the best performers here in my opinion.

Discount "Stargate: Atlantis" crew
The thing that makes this movie so intriguing is that it basically takes place in one single room, but making it seem like it takes place in a contraption with thousands of rooms. The whole set consisted only of one 14 by 14 foot cube, in which all of the filming took place. The directors used special gel panels where they then lit up using different colored lights to make it easier on the viewer to see that the characters are moving from one room to another. And to make it even easier, the whole movie was shot color by color, with the meatier parts being in the first color, which was red. It is little tricks like that that makes this low budget film a little more special and impressive.

The film crew also got a lot of help from the special effects company C.O.R.E., who did all of the digital effects in the movie, including the traps and the outside of the cube, and they did it all for free. Yes, it certainly looks what you pay for (especially on that opening scene, that mesh is taken straight from some sci-fi bullshit), but they work, and who the hell can turn down free help? I sure can't. Anyway, there is not much special effects here, some digital stuff and an acid sprayed face, nothing much.

While the movie is not scary per se, it is god damn creepy, watching all the characters descend into the eternal pits of madness the longer they are in. The transformation is especially obvious with Quentin, who goes from being a natural leader, almost being the voice of reason (the smoking hypocrite doctor sure ain't one), to becoming a raging killer. That is truly some good script writing, because the transformation is not sudden, it comes in just the pace that it needs to come. "Cube" is truly a psychological thriller, and it excels at being just that.


So eventually, the group finds out that Worth helped design this gigantic cube, even if he only did the outer shell, but he is certainly not the bad guy. They also come to the conclusion that the big cube consists of at least 26x26x26 rooms (a total of 17 576 rooms!), and that the rooms also switch places (in a pace that is very sporadic). Well, Quentin does not care, because he has reached the boiling point, he wants out, pushing Leaven to figure it all out, and she does, only to realize that the answers can only be acquired through some complex algorithm that even she cannot do without a computer. Fortunately, she has Kazan, who goes full Rain Man and just spits out the right answers to every number.

Leaven, Worth, and Kazan then tries to shake off Quentin, trying to reach the end by themselves, and by some cunning strategy (or just outright stupidity by Quentin), they succeed, eventually reaching the bridge to the exit. However, while Worth is hesitating if he deserves his freedom, Quentin appears out of nowhere, and stabs Leaven with a broken door handle. He then beats up Worth and grabs a hold of Kazan, who is on his way out, but as Quentin tries to get over the threshold, Worth comes back and holds him back, just as the bridge cube moves, splitting Quentin in half (which we never get to see the end result of, thanks budget). All that is left is Kazan, and a white bright light.

While the ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered (most of them being answered in the prequel movie "Cube Zero"), it is still a satisfying ending. Quentin got what he deserved, Worth got his redemption, and Kazan, the most unlikely one of them all, survives to live another day. No cliches, no sad good byes, just bliss, complete bliss.


"Cube" is a wonderful little movie that does creep under your skin, even with minimum blood, gore, and jump scares. The psychological transformations that is happening to these characters before our eyes is very interesting to follow, and the suspense of not knowing if the next room is trapped or not is just great. While it does have its set of flaws, those do not take away the overall experience of the movie, and it is most certainly a movie worth watching for fans of the "Saw" franchise. No wonder this film spawned its own set of sequels eventually, but then again, it is a horror movie, it will get sequels, for better, or for worse.

Rating: 8/10 Algorithms

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