CUBE (1997)
Director: Vincenzo Natali

CUBE (1997)We get used to seeing movies with multi-million dollar budgets, famous cast members, and elaborate sets. But in 1997, Vincenzo Natali made a film with six unknown actors for only $365,000 (in Canadian funds). And in an unheard-of move, it took place in what is essentially just one room. An homage to the Twilight Zone episode "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" and similar in tone to Harlan Ellison's short story "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream," Cube is absolute brilliance.

The plot is simple, yet complex at the same time. Our story follows six people: Leaven (Nicole de Boer), Worth (David Hewlett), Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint), Holloway (Nicky Guadagni), Rennes (Wayne Robson), and Kazan (Andrew Miller). The strangers find themselves locked in an immense maze of cubical rooms. There's no food or water, giving them only a few days to live. None of the six know why or how the're there, but they all have some sort of knowledge that could allow them to escape. The tensions rise as they're forced to work together in an attempt to free themselves from this nightmare.

Cube is an incredibly focused film. It could just as easily be a play using a partitioned set. The only real differences from scene to scene are various lighting tricks, or the booby traps the captives encounter. But director Vincenzo Natali makes the absolute best of what little there is to work with. You wouldn't expect such a minimalist film to be so gripping or suspensful, but Cube is a fine example of how less is more. For a modern sci-fi/horror film to not rely heavily on effects or at least elaborate sets and production elements is almost unheard of.

Part of the movie's charm lies in the mystery created from the very start of the movie. The screenplay, penned by Natali, Andre Bijelic, and Graeme Manson, is excellently done. It unfolds gradually, revealing itself a piece at a time. The more the movie progresses, the more we learn about the characters and the more they learn about their situation and one another. The small cast does a respectable job, despite some over-acting in various scenes. Over-acting isn't always a bad thing, though; Charlton Heston and Bruce Campbell have made careers out of it. In fact, I find the over-acting to be a glimmer of fun in the bleakness of the movie. The standout in the movie is Maurice Dean Wint. Even though he starts to get a little hammy, he really manages to convey that he's slowly being driven insane by cabin fever. Meanwhile, Mark Korven's score is brilliant, and gives the movie an air of suspicion, almost as if something is hiding in the shadows.

Despite being unusual, Cube manages to simultaneously be Hollywood friendly and thumb its nose at Hollywood's conventions. Fans of movies that are quickly paced will probably be turned off, as Cube works the slow burn, drawing out particular scenes over long periods of time, yet it doesn't lack suspense or excitement. I gladly recommend Cube to fans of both independent films and The Twilight Zone, as well as film students wondering what kind of a first movie to make. Cube is brilliantly original, and too weird not to pass up. It's a shame that this was never a huge hit, because it would definately be a classic example of creativity.

Final Rating: ****