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Cube

(Vincenzo Natali, Canada, 1998)


 


There is something gleefully adolescent about this Canadian cheapie. It is the kind of film that aspiring directors dream up when they are around the age of thirteen: a mish-mash of tough action, dreamy sci-fi, and existential philosophising, served up in a brisk ninety-two minutes – paying homage to Star Wars, Star Trek and Sartre’s No Exit all at once.

Not the least of this film’s nerdy joys is the simplicity and beauty of its production concept. Six people, from diverse walks of life, awake one day to find themselves imprisoned in a cube-shaped room. Climbing through passageways, those that manage to escape the various deadly booby traps figure out that around them are hundreds of other identical cubic rooms – all placed within a master cube.

Director and co-writer Vincenzo Natali handles this corny, classic premise so cleverly that it takes a while to realise his master stroke: since every room is identical (only the colours lighting up walls are different from one space to the next), he only needed one set to shoot most of the movie. That’s feral-cinema economy for you.

Drama-wise, this is pretty dopey stuff. Of course, the six characters manage to swiftly incarnate various social, racial and sexual conflicts. Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint), a black cop, locks horns with Holloway (Nicky Guadagni), an “old maid” with a passion for leftist conspiracy theories. The idealistic youthfulness of Leaven (Nicole de Boer) clashes with the disenchantment expressed by dark horse Worth (David Hewlett). The autism of Kazan (Andrew Miller) remains an enigma to all, until they can figure out the special skills that have determined each of their presences in the cube.

Fortunately, the therapeutic gabfest element never outstays its welcome. Soon enough, an old-fashioned dose of revenge, violence or gore enters this accursed space – with some impressive low-budget special effects work confined to the select moments when it can deliver maximum impact.

Watching Cube can sometimes feel like enforced audience participation at a film school graduation night: pastiches of the collected works of Lucas, Kubrick and the Coens flash by, and one admires the technical execution of the piece rather than becoming truly involved in the drama. Yet Cube is a memorably enjoyable effort by a young filmmaker who is sure to go far.

homage: Saw

© Adrian Martin February 1999


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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