Why worry about the Christmas Creep, when you can enjoy the Blogtober Sprawl!
CUBE is one of those movies whose reputation I always remember better than I do its contents. My hazy recollection, of a piece of canned theater that comports itself as an unusually grisly made for TV movie, tends to take a back seat to the passion people seem to have for it. Perhaps I have more of a fondness for its category than I do for the film itself–that is, I tend to file it with certain rental items that regularly terrify normallos who don’t ordinarily partake of the horror genre. (Oddly, the somewhat similar EVENT HORIZON is the other most memorable entry on this list) In my conversational experience, even people who don’t even have a favorite HELLRAISER installment may still remember CUBE in greater detail than they’d like. It’s an intriguing achievement.
Director Vincenzo Natali’s feature debut has a premise I don’t much care for: A kooky collection of strangers find themselves trapped in undesirable circumstances, where discovering the invisible links between them may be the key to their survival. Luckily for me, this tired narrative takes place in the heart of a mysterious network of high tech rooms variously housing some nightmarish boobytraps. The potential hero, a notorious escape artist, is knocked off right away, leaving behind a baffled gaggle of people who have to assemble their collective strengths (architect, math whiz, doctor, etc) to determine a way forward, which is easier than remembering how any of them came to be there. Bets can be placed and easily won on which twists and turns will lead the most tolerable characters to their questionable victory.
Loud summer stock-y acting and the clunky unraveling of clues is counterbalanced by the movie’s carefully sustained suspense; Even if you aren’t worried about which character will crack next, then you can focus on which of them will be slap-chopped into geometric gore by the cube’s mechanized traps. My major complaint is that I could have used more of these sadistic, mostly-wire-based devices, and less bug-eyed bickering among performers that are not really equipped to carry what is essentially a one-set play on the backs of their dramatic abilities. You may already have guessed that the only really important character in CUBE is in fact the deadly and design-forward cube itself, which was conceived for the film by a mathematician.
I have often wondered how much more or less satisfying the movie is when you have some understanding of math. If you’re like me, you hear actors rattling off sets of data and projections that are meant to explain their environment, and you think, “OK, this movie appears to involve actual mathematics, and it is showing its work. That’s all I need to know.” What I personally find most satisfying about CUBE is not this peculiar form of realism, but its unanswerable questions. Huge amounts of screen time are spent with the crotchety cast debating the plausibility of a government conspiracy, alien invasion, or “Most Dangerous Game” scenario, until someone finally offers, with apparent certainty, one genuine explanation. A person who turns out to have been involved in the cube’s construction–which was completed by a vast crew of independent contractors working blind with no context for their individual tasks–reveals that there simply is no overarching authority, no purpose for the structure, and no logic in the selection of its prisoners. The cube, he claims, is a product of pure entropy. That is, from origins unknown, a haphazard and increasingly complex system of contract work, delegated processes, bureaucratic mandates, corporate red tape, and other such Kafkaesque ailments of modern professionalism led to the production of an object, owned by no one, used for nothing, that continues to suck up unwitting civilians for no reason on absolutely no one’s watch. If you have ever worked for a major corporation, this is a chillingly convincing proposal, and it may set CUBE up to become increasingly relevant as years pass.
If you have seen the sequel and prequel to CUBE, you may be gearing up to argue with me, so I’ll just tell you right now that I’m perfectly happy to take the original movie by itself, please and thank you. I would say that the evil cube creep and maintenance crew that reveal themselves in CUBE: ZERO serve only to ruin the movie with their obnoxious ironies and quirky performances, but there’s really nothing to ruin other than the first scene’s mind-bending display of bubbling grue, a pleasure that is never to be repeated. The slightly superior CUBE 2: HYPERCUBE also offers a singular thrill, this one coming at the movie’s climax, in which the cube appears to both implode and explode endlessly. This is not so easy to address in this context, but I must insist that if you have ever done as little as one single drug in your entire life, even within the safety of a dentist’s chair, this sequence will just about turn your hair white with its impossible authenticity. The nauseating impression of infinity, the multidimensional symmetry, the impossibly diffuse light, the sensation of being in a place both emptily vast and deeply interior, and the horrifying feeling of simultaneously falling and flying are a perfect reflection of what the mind does when untethered from the consciousness. It is on that basis alone that I am able to recommend anything about the CUBE sequels, although if you find that to be a draw, you may be better off just going out and doing some drugs.
Shoutout to Holloway for being the most level headed one in the group (besides her paranoid episodes, of course). Really though, she was so on point the majority of the movie and I totally respect that. My favorite thing about dear Helen is that she didn’t let anyone fuck with Kazan. Every time there was any controversy involving him, she was the first to defend him. This relationship she held with Kazan proved that the loss of humanity within the cube was not an inevitability and I thought that was a great thread to the story.