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Monday, October 14, 2019

Review: Cube

Director: Vicenzo Natali
Screenplay: André Bijelic and Vicenzo Natali
Year: 1997

Six strangers wake up in a mysterious structure full of similar rooms without knowing why they are there. Their goal is to get out alive, but with the small inconvenience that they have no idea how to get out and that some rooms are equipped with mortal traps. To escape they must work together, but this poses a bigger threat that the traps themselves. While I could be referring to any of the movies in the “Saw” franchise, this is the plot of the cult classic “Cube”.

“Cube” is the first work of director Vicenzo Natali ("In The Tall Grass"), who later worked in other films that also became cult classics like “Cypher”, “Splice”, and “Haunter”. Besides being created with a small budget, the magic of “Cube” is that it was filmed in a single room and with some camera tricks, aesthetical changes and special effects, it gets to give the impression that the protagonists are trapped in a huge maze. As what happened years later with “Saw” and “Paranormal Activity”, Natali shows that a tight budget is no limitation for making a great film.

The first scene of “Cube” takes place inside one of the rooms of the maze where we have a character trying to figure out how to escape this place. The character is irrelevant, as the purpose of this scene is to expose how does the maze works and the kind of traps it hosts. In this scene, we have one of the most iconic deaths in horror cinema when our irrelevant character activates a trap. At first, it seems like nothing happened, but a thin line of blood under his eye lets us know that something is very wrong and a few seconds later we see that this character was cut into small cubes by a wire mesh. If this death seems familiar, I invite you to remember (or see if you haven’t) one of the initial scenes in “Resident Evil”, where we have an homage to this scene but with a laser mesh instead.

In the next scene, already having a glimpse of the docile behavior of the cube (sarcasm) we get to know our protagonists. All of them are dressed in clothes that resemble those of convicts and their names are based on the names of famous jails, a clear analogy about their actual situation being trapped in a maze they cannot escape. Here we start to know the protagonists and some of the problems with the movie. The first one, and maybe the more obvious, is the construction of the characters. Each of them is a stereotype of what they should represent: the strong policeman that represents the state, law, and order but who is consumed by rage and corruption, the girl that with only putting on some glasses becomes a mathematical wizard, the cynical that knows more than what it shows, the doctor who is a caretaker by nature, the young autistic and mentally handicapped guy who is a genius, and the ex-convict with an impressive break out record and who is the only one with a plan for getting out of there. With these pronounced stereotypes and the ironic tone presented since early in the film, it’s easy to predict some events.

Besides these stereotypical characters, the movie has a few other details that I don’t know if plays against or with it. One is that the acting is not always good and in some parts are exaggerated. For me, this is something expected from a low budget movie with a cast of actors that had done little in their careers before that project, and to a certain extent, is one of the things that makes this movie fun.

Even with the problems that “Cube” has, it’s a movie that I really enjoy every time I see it. For me is a movie that what does good is so good that outweighs what it does wrong, and that much of what it does wrong can be justified with the short budget. “Cube” manages to take you into the story and this alternate world inside this cube since the first scene. The tension is always kept high with the possibility of activating a trap and while we are discovering more and more about the characters. Although they are stereotypical and many events can be predicted, how they are presented is still impactful.

“Cube” is one of those movies that seems to have everything against but ends up being an excellent film that combines science fiction with horror and some dark humor. The irony is ever-present in the story, being the first death and the ending examples of it, and the budget of the movie and that it was all filmed in one set its maximum expression. More than 20 years after being released, it's still an enjoyable movie and a favorite of many horror movie fans.

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