(Release Date: September 9, 1997 [Canadian Premiere - Toronto Film Festival])
(USA Theatrical Release Date: September 11, 1998)
Canadian Indie Cube is not usually found on a list of great Sci-Fi/ Horror classics. That's a shame, because this film has proven to be a remarkably artistic and surprising little gem with some good acting and real thrills. I wasn't sure what to expect, however, from the first moment to the last, I couldn't look away!
No easy task, because at 26 possible cubes deep and 26 possible cubes across, there are 17,576 potential cubes one might find. The bigger problem is, a great number of the cubes contain sensors that activate execution devices of multiple sorts. From fire, to Grid-Razors, to shooting acid... you name it, the danger's there. But there's a method to the madness. Like the geometric purity of the cube, there's a logic to the cubes. Each cube contains numerical coordinates, and therein lies the key to safety, and to escape.
Along the way there is no shortage of surprises, and no shortage of very real angst. No one seems to remember how they arrived in the cube, nor is there any real clue to who, if anyone, is in charge of the cubes and who is confined inside. Such a predicament is enough to drive anyone crazy, and does it ever. We're talking full-on rubber-chicken-bouncing, Dan-Rather-slapping, David-Duke-voting insanity, and along the way the obvious stereotypes of each person are broken and the good and bad guys trade places as often as the sliding puzzle-cubes!
Maurice Dean Wint is great as the multi-dimensional cop, Quentin who takes charge in all the right (and wrong) ways. Quentin evokes memories of Ben's impassioned plight in Night of the Living Dead. Counterpoint to the wild brutish Quentin is Nicky Guadagni's liberal Doctor Holloway. Character actor Wayne Robinson's cameo as Rennes (a sort of career bird-man-of-Alcatraz) gives us the basic concepts for the rest of the cast to build on. David Hewlett as Worth, gives us our altruistic antagonist who might know more than he's letting on. It's the unlikely team of Mathematician Leaven (Nicole de Boer from Dead Zone and DS9) and Autistic Kazan (Andrew Miller) that just might have the key to getting the eff-you-see-kay out of the see-you-bee-eee! Together our characters run the gamut from Fear, Paranoia, Suspicion, Desperation, Psychosis, and Pain like the twisting of the old Rubik's Cube. While there is distinct consistency of character here, there is almost a transient mood to the group allowing for changes as often as the changes in the cube itself.
It's this fluidity of character that makes this drama compelling! Amazingly in all this, writers AndrÚ Bijelic, Vincenzo Natali and Graeme Manson manage to evoke some substantial character development and some distinct (and almost realistic) character evolution. Natali, who also directed, manages to keep a claustrophobic and tense flow to the story that pulls the viewer in and imprisons the viewer along with the cube six. The strife and emotion here force this impossible allegory to achieve a piece of realism here against all odds.
But it isn't reality, and I mean allegory when I say it. Just take the names of the prisoners (Quentin, Holloway, Kazan, Rennes, Leaven and Worth... not to mention Alderson), and see what you get. Each of the six have an achilles heel and each of the six have one among them who is a true antagonist. When insanity and claustrophobia become the words of the day, who can you trust.
While this is amazingly artistic and engrossing to watch, there are some flaws. This is a Canadian Independent film, and it looks like one! While to a great, great extent the special effects are above average, even surprising at times, sometimes the film stock appears rather grainy and the overall effect feels a little like an '80s episode of Doctor Who. Surprisingly the acting is uniformly pretty damned good, however as the situation becomes more and more bleak and the prisoners get more and more stir-crazy, some of the formerly level-headed and realistic leaders seem to get increasingly cartoonish in their madness.
I'd be remiss to not comment on the last act. While I'll offer no spoilers, I can say this directly... This is an Art Film! While it's true that this is a Sci-Fi/ Horror/ Drama, it's more heavy on the drama and the psychological effects being confined to "A Million Box" might have on a group of squabbling innocents. In that respect, many a viewer might be turned off at the lack of finality in the finale, and the lack of thorough explanation of the questions Cube poses. The thing is, it really doesn't matter! As an engrossing and fascinating experiment in Psychology, it's a complete success. It's easy to see those weaned on Hellraiser, Event Horizon, and even Alien to find the film ultimately unsatisfying. For those of you, I have good news... there's a Sequel called Hypercube: Cube 2 and a prequel on the way in 2004 called Cube 0! Always leave 'em wanting more!
Four Stars out of Five for Cube! This is Scary Science Fiction at its most psychological, with gore, violence and profanity, but most of all intelligence and artistry. If your idea of Sci-Fi is Star Trek: Nemesis, you might be frustrated by the claustrophobia and open ended-ness of this prison movie. However, those of you who have THX-1138 on Laserdisc, Cube is for you rubes!
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