Cube (1997, Canada)

Directed by Vincenzo Natali.

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Written by André Bijelic, Vincenzo Natali and Graeme Manson.
Starring Nicole de Boer, Maurice Dean Wint and David Hewlett.
Followed by Cube 2: Hypercube (2002)

Cube (1997) Theatrical Poster

Directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali, Cube is a Canadian science fiction horror released in 1997. Significant for being the Canadian Film Centre’s (CFC) first feature film, and Natali’s feature length directional debut, Cube has polarised audiences since release due in part to it’s ‘kafkaesque’ setting; a surreal, industrial cube-shaped design. The only way out lies within your own mind.

Cube is one of the greatest, and unfortunately most underrated horror movies from the 1990s. Frequently misunderstood, Vincenzo Natali’s debut is a movie I feel shouldn’t need to be defended, but one I frequently have to defend whenever it is brought up in conversation. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Cube has it’s fair share of flaws; attributed to the film’s low budget. Yet, Cube’s simple premise is well crafted, delving into the human psyche and encapsulating everything you have read off of the theatrical poster: “Fear. Paranoia. Suspicion. Desperation.”

Awakening within a cube-shaped interior, devoid of anything but empty space and illuminated only by square panels intricately placed around the structure, Alderson surveys his surroundings, unsure as to why or how he arrived there. Even his name is known to him only by the word sewn into his plain grey clothing.

Cube (1997)

Upon all six sides of the cubic room are access panels that lead into a maze of connected, almost identical cubic interiors. The only differing quality between them is the colour of light that illuminates from within. After some hesitation Alderson releases the locking mechanism on one of the access panels and slowly climbs through, emerging in the next room.

Step by step Alderson approaches the next nearest access panel, stopping only upon hearing the sound of metal hitting metal. Silence bestows the cubic maze once more…Alderson frozen, with a vacant look in his eyes. Crimson red soon emerges from perfectly lined cuts that appear throughout Alderson’s body. As perfect cubes of flesh crumble apart, a metal wire mesh contraption folds itself back towards the ceiling, having claimed Alderson’s life. First one down, six more to go, as another group awaken within the cube. “I’m not dying in a fucking rat maze!”

Cube (1997)

Inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone television series entitled ‘Five Characters in Search of an Exit’, aired in 1961, Vincenzo Natali developed Cube as a feature film, but in order to obtain financing he took elements of the concept and first created the 1997 short film Elevated, co-written with Karen Walton. This ‘proof-of-concept’ worked and allowed Natali to begin production that same year, joining forces with mathematician David W. Pravica, whom would help develop the cube, and it’s numerical identification system; each room labelled with three sets of three identification numbers. Cube’s strength is in it’s design, but most importantly, in it’s ambiguity.

“This may be hard for you to understand, but there is no conspiracy. Nobody is in charge. It…it’s a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan. Can you grasp that?”

Cube is a technical achievement in itself. Only one cubic room was built, with just one working access panel that could support the weight of the actors. The coloured lighting was changed by individual gel panels, and a partial cube was constructed for shots depicting a character looking from one room into another.

Cube (1997)

Where Cube’s weaknesses are frequently attributed to are the acting chops of most of the cast, a source of much negative criticism, and the ambitious, dialogue heavy source material written by Vincenzo Natali, Andre Bijelic and Graeme Manson, which at times can sound uncomfortable and unrealistic. There are a few casting standouts however, with David Hewlitt (Stargate: Atlantis) handling the development of his character ‘Worth’ with subtlety, Andrew Miller providing a realistic portrayal of the mentally handicapped ‘Kazan’, and finally Wayne Robson providing a brief, but solid performance I won’t spoil further.

The complexities of human integration through isolation is what elevates the concept of Cube. The uncertainty that, within the industrial cubic maze, a ‘captive’ mind could psychologically break at any time. This paranoia and fear translates to Cube’s audiences as they patiently await resolve but are rewarded with ambiguity. There is no conspiracy. “Big Brother is not watching you!”

Ken Wynne

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