The cube trilogy has been sitting on my DVD shelf for a number of years now. Still in its wrapper, the box set was an impulse buy based on the reviews of the original film and the fact that the first one came from director Vincenzo Natalia, a filmmaker whose work I have enjoyed over the last decade or so since discovering his movie Splice. In the current lockdown, it seemed like the perfect time to actually view at least the first instalment in the three-film series.
Five strangers wake up in a large cube-shaped room. They have no idea where they are and how they got there. On each wall, the floor and ceiling is a square hatch that leads to another similar from. One of the group, Rennes, finds to his cost that some of the rooms are in fact traps that are designed to kill anyone who enters. The traps are not all the same and incorporate wires, acid, spikes and any number of elements designed to ruin your day. The group have to work together to try to find out what is going on, where they are and if they can get out of the seemingly never-ending series of rooms.
The production design sets the tone for the film. Each room is basically the same. A cube with multiple panels that are busy with designs. Each room is coloured using backlights in a seemingly random fashion. For instance, not all red rooms spell danger. That would be too obvious. Using this repetition instantly drives home the problem that the protagonists have. Being faced with one room after another that is in essence exactly the same is soul-destroying for them and emphasises the depth of the situation for the n=benefit of the audience.
Of course, having these elements in place is a good start but it will only keep the story moving along if there is development in the characters. Remember, this a low budget Sci-Fi horror. With a very limited special effects budget, the interactions between the principals are key to the enjoyment of the film. To this end, the characters come from very diverse backgrounds. This gives the opportunity for cultural, political and racial elements to be developed. The initial lead is a veteran cop who is quick to anger and doesn’t suffer fools. Unfortunately, this character isn’t written and developed very well. It is a struggle to connect with him as the dialogue is cliched and a bit stilted. What starts off as angry doesn’t really go anywhere and the character loses focus after a period.
There are a couple of characters that are there whose primary function is to move the plot along. On each hatch is a series of numbers that the maths student is able to interpret to work out if the next room is safe from traps or not. As we go along the meaning of the numbers is re-interpreted. It gets to the point where working out the meaning is too complex so the boy that they met earlier comes to the fore as he is able to carry out prime factorisations in his head. This smacks of making life easier for the film by using a cliched and often inaccurate interpretation of autism.
Gripes aside, the film flows well. The rooms may blend into one large living hell but it never the same thing twice. There are endless possibilities for terror and the film makes full use of them. The mental state of the more fragile characters deteriorates as they progress. This is partly due to their mindset before they entered the cube and partly to do with the fact that they are in a desperate situation with no apparent way out and no food or water to sustain them. It was a nice touch for the group to have to improvise as they were going along. With nothing else to hand they had to make use of the boots on their feet and the clothes on their back to help overcome the many obstacles.
It is understandable why Cube has become something of a cult film. It has a simple premise and the rules of the enclosed world do not change throughout the movie. There is a palpable tension throughout and makes the best use of its budget.