Friday, August 5, 2011

Cube (1997)
CANADA --- science fiction/ horror

Dir: Vincenzo Natali

We've all seen this kind of minimalist psychological character study. I usually notice most of them are based on stage play with a very small cast and contained space of people. Stuff akin to Samuel Beckett's work, but these are often very well done character pieces designed to get into the human psyche. Alfred Hitchcock gave us "Lifeboat", we also had the excellent "Twelve Angry Men", and even the johnny-come-lately gore porn horror films of the "Saw" series get in the act. I came name more, but one such entry took the inventive and cheap low budget idea and took it into a very creative direction in "Cube".

Canadian director Vincenzo Natali locks us in the "Cube". The opening teaser features a man who attempts to escape a cubical room and is suddenly sliced and diced to pieces. Next we see a group of individuals come together to one room, all trying to find their bearings as they admit to just waking up. They all are dressed in plain grey clothes with their name on them like prisoners. There's Quentin an ex-police officer, Leaven a student, Worth a mysterious young man, Holloway a female doctor, and Rennes a serial escaped convict. Rennes appears to be the veteran of the group as he knows how the place operates, explaining that some of the different rooms are booby-trapped. Quentin is the first to recognize that Rennes is in actuality "The Wren", a kinda Robert Stroud "birdman" of several prisons, so they follow his lead as he tosses boots. Soon, Leaven begins to notice that the rooms are numbered at the hatchways, and they can't be there for no reason.

Ironically, Rennes ends up as the first to die, after jumping into a room that is booby-trapped. The group recover from the death and realize they have to find some kind of order, as Quentin quickly takes the reins as the leader of the group. He elects Leaven as their new guide to decipher the arithmetic meaning behind the serial numbers in the hatchways, and she does eventually discover a logic behind them. Just as they are ready to go forward with ease, a new member falls into their path, an autistic man named Kazan. Some of the group find him to be a burden and others are humane enough to realize it is their responsibility to help him out. As tempers shorten and time seems to be running short, they realize if they do not find the way, they'll all eventually die with no food or water. Quentin becomes increasingly abusive to the group, ultimately going so far as to be responsible for the death of one of them. While Quentin becomes a ticking time bomb, the remnants of the group must find a way to survive their Judas and escape the cube alive.

Clearly shot on a low budget, "Cube" is a tiny little thought-provoking sci-fi masterpiece. As mentioned earlier, it is done in the style of a small ensemble stage play, focusing on character study. This particular piece, however, appears to be directly influenced by a classic episode of the American TV series "Twilight Zone" titled "Five Characters In Search of An Exit" by Rod Serling based on a short story called "The Depository" by Marvin Petal which in turn was inspired by a philosophical play by Luigi Pirandello called "Six Characters in Search of an Author". It is not without it's own inventions, like the fact the characters are all named after prisons. Quentin is named after San Quentin, Leaven and Worth are collectively named after Leavenworth, Kazan after a Russian prison, Holloway is named after a female prison in England,  as too is Rennes after a female prison in France. All in all, "Cube" is an interesting film full of suspense, character arcs, and even a little action.