At long last, after who knows how many Summers of Horror it’s been on the list, Cube has been slain.
At this point, I don’t even remember how I heard about Cube or decided it was worth seeking out. I suppose it was the premise that got me – a handful of perfect strangers randomly awaken inside an empty, cubical room. Vaguely alien and industrial in design, a small hatch lies in the center of every surface, each leading to more identical cube rooms distinguished from one another only by different colored walls and, occasionally, violent death traps. Why are these people in here? How did they get there? For what purpose are they imprisoned, and who is responsible? Where even IS this three dimensional maze located?
Spoiler alert, but for your own sake I feel obligated to reveal that the movie does not feel compunction to answer those questions. There’s a real, pervasive 90’s ennui to the whole thing – characters moaning about the military industrial complex and the futility of existence and blah blah blah. The shallow, depressed philosophy spouted by the characters between action scenes can’t help but come off as silly in our post-9/11, mid-Trump culture.
Actually, the 90’s consumes Cube in so many other ways, from the music video-style camera work to the bug-eyed overacting. The first 15 minutes of the film offers up some rather excellent practical gore effects work, but it seems the entire FX budget was exhausted by that first act, because it’s nonexistent for the rest of the film, augmented ultimately by laughably dated 1997 CGI. Those first kill scenes are most of what earns this movie the “horror” genre label, when in actuality it’s far more of a sci-fi thriller, along the lines of a feature length Twilight Zone episode (in fact, the premise itself is quite similar to Five Characters in Search of an Exit).
Initially, the characters’ archetypes line up with those of a classic zombie movie. You’ve got the pragmatic leader (“We are NOT gonna die in here! Now let’s think this through!”), the panicker (“WHAT IS GOING ON WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS TO US?!”), the defeatist thinker (“The human body can last three days tops without food and water.”), the sarcastic loner (“If you’re quite finished bickering, maybe we should, I don’t know, try to get out?”), and the catatonic weirdo (“…”). Later in the film, a, um, “challenged” character is introduced. Yes, really. They’re pretty much all obnoxious at first, but gradually each archetype is inverted or twisted into something else, which helps keep things from becoming too predictable.
When all is said and done, Cube is at the very least always engaging. The premise is an all-timer, but the execution just falls a little short. A remake is allegedly in the works, and for once I enthusiastically support the idea. This one deserves a proper remake.