DIRECTED BY

Vincenzo Natali

 

STARRING

Nicole de Boer

Nicky Guadagni

David Hewlett

Andrew Miller

Julian Richings

Wayne Robson

Maurice Dean Wint

 

RATED

R

 

RELEASED IN

1998

 

RUNNING TIME

1 Hr., 30 Mins.

Cube May 9, 2019  

ube, a low-budget, claustrophobic horror thriller from 1998, seems as if it came straight from the minds Franz Kafka or Jean-Paul Sartre — writers who liked, in their heydays, to throw characters in the middle of nightmare scenarios and leave them hanging up, high and dry. Remember Kafka’s The Trial (1922), which saw a young man placed under arrest for a crime that’s never explained to either him or the

From 1998's "Cube."

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people reading his story? Or Sartre’s No Exit (1944), which saw three people who hated each other condemned to spend the rest of eternity, in Hell, with only each other as company?

 

Cube doesn’t come from either author, though. Invoking their sometimes-crisscrossing sensibilities is the American-Canadian filmmaker Vincenzo Natali, who’s said that, in 1990, he first had had the not-so-novel-but-still-intriguing idea to make a movie entirely set in Hell.

 

Cube, which was his first directing effort, comes close enough to what the pre-revision story idea looked like. It takes place entirely inside an, er, behemoth of a cube-like structure replete with thousands of interconnected rooms. Some are booby-trapped, some are safe. The film opens with the grisly death of someone who accidentally wanders into one of the dangerous spaces, then puts its focus on a gaggle of characters who wake up, with their memories fuzzy, inside the enigmatic compound. They don’t know, and will never find out, why they’ve been brought here.

 

Comprising the unlucky are Quentin (Maurice Dean Witt), a short-tempered, toxically masculine police officer; Joan (Nicole de Boer), a dweebish college student studying math; David (David Hewlett), a pessimistic freelancer; Rennes (Wayne Robson), a notorious escape artist; and Helen (Nicky Guadagni), a 50-ish free-clinic doctor who wears largely unfounded paranoia on her sleeve. The object, like in the Saw movies (2004-2017), is to escape the bloodlusty quasi-maze, hoping crossed fingers don’t get cut off in the process.

 

I like Cube’s conceit, which is spare and tinged with a nothing-matters worldview, and I like the way the title setting is never explained. Helen posits that it’s somehow affiliated with the government. But guessing, it turns out, is all she, and we, can do.

 

Weaker, though, is most else. Tension isn't built. Natali prefers his characters simply sweat, worry, and yell at each other rather than get to a slow-built breaking point. Backgrounds are explained, but not originally enough to allow for these characters to break out of their stock-like limitations. There are stakes — no food or water is available, for instance — but the screenplay and performances are lined in a misanthropy that whittles away much investment in the material. All that, combined with a short running time that feels longer, in part, because the characters figure out the apparent rules of this Rubik’s cube of a place fairly early on, makes Cube more empty and depressing than compellingly provocative. In my nihilist works of horror art, I prefer things be more proportionate. C