Cube (film)

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For the 1969 film by Jim Henson, see The Cube (film). For other uses, see Cube (disambiguation).
Cube The Movie Poster Art.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Vincenzo Natali
Produced by
Written by
Music by Mark Korven
Cinematography Derek Rogers
Edited by John Sanders
Distributed by Trimark Pictures
Release dates
Running time
90 minutes
Country Canada
Language English
Budget $350,000[1]
Box office $565,727[2]

Cube is a 1997 Canadian science fiction psychological horror film, directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali.[3] The film was a successful product of the Canadian Film Centre's First Feature Project.[4]


A man named Alderson awakens and finds himself in a cube-shaped room with a hatch in every wall, each of which leads to rooms identical except for their color. He enters an orange room and, without warning, is killed by a trap. In another such room, five people – Quentin, Worth, Holloway, Rennes, and Leaven – meet. None of them knows where they are or how they got there. Quentin informs the others that some rooms contain traps, which he learned by nearly being killed by one. Rennes assumes each trap is triggered by a motion detector and tests each room by throwing one of his boots in first. Leaven notices numbers inscribed in the passageways between rooms. Quentin, a policeman, recognizes Rennes as "the Wren", an escape artist renowned for getting out of jails. After declaring one room trap-free, Rennes enters and is sprayed with acid, killing him. The others realize that there are different kinds of detectors, and Quentin deduces that this trap was triggered by heat.

Quentin believes each person has a reason for being there. He is a police officer, Leaven is a mathematics student, Holloway a physician and conspiracy theorist, and the surly Worth declines to talk about himself. Leaven hypothesizes that any room marked with a prime number is a trap. They find a mentally challenged man named Kazan, whom Holloway insists they bring along. When Quentin nearly dies in a room deemed safe by Leaven's calculations, tensions rise due to personality conflicts and lack of faith in Leaven's system. Quentin provokes Worth into an argument about finding the exit, and Worth accidentally reveals that he has knowledge of the Cube. Worth admits that he designed the Cube's outer shell for a shadowy bureaucracy and guesses that its original purpose has been forgotten; they have been imprisoned within simply to put it to use.

Worth's knowledge of the outer shell's size allows Leaven to determine that each side of the Cube is 26 rooms across and 17,576 rooms total. She guesses that the numbers indicate the Cartesian coordinates of the rooms. The group moves toward the nearest edge as determined by her theory, but each of the rooms near the outer wall are trapped. Rather than backtrack, they travel silently through a room with a sound-activated trap. After Kazan makes a sound and nearly causes Quentin's death, Quentin threatens Kazan. Holloway defends Kazan and gets in a provocative argument with Quentin about his marriage. Quentin slaps her in response, further increasing the group's tension. When Holloway scouts a gap between the Cube and outer shell, she nearly falls due to a violent quake; Quentin initially saves her but then lets her fall to her death. He reports her death to the others as an accident.

Quentin attempts to persuade Leaven to abandon the others with him and makes a sexual advance, both of which she rejects. When Quentin becomes aggressive, Worth intervenes; Quentin beats him savagely and drops him through a floor hatch. Worth laughs hysterically at what he finds — Rennes's corpse. The group is demoralized by the thought of having been wandering in circles. Worth realizes that the rooms move periodically through the Cube, and this is the source of the quaking. Leaven deduces that traps are not tagged by prime numbers, but by powers of prime numbers. Much to Quentin's surprise, Kazan reveals himself to be an autistic savant who can quickly do prime factorisations mentally. With Kazan's help, Leaven guides them to a bridge room which will lead them out of the maze in two movements. Worth preemptively ambushes Quentin and leaves him behind, though Worth declines to leave the Cube, as he has lost faith in humanity.

Leaven objects and convinces Worth to join her, but Quentin reappears, kills her, and mortally wounds Worth. As Quentin moves to kill Kazan, Worth expends the last of his strength to grab Quentin's leg, pinning him in the passageway as the rooms shift again. Quentin is torn apart, and Worth dies seconds later. Kazan slowly walks into a bright light.


Each character's name is connected with a real-world prison:

Name Occupation Gender Prison Connection Played by
Kazan Autistic Savant Male Kazan Prison (Russia) Andrew Miller
David Worth Architect Male Leavenworth Prison (U.S.A.) David Hewlett
Quentin Police officer Male San Quentin State Prison (U.S.A.) Maurice Dean Wint
Joan Leaven Mathematics Student Female Leavenworth Prison (U.S.A.) Nicole de Boer
Dr. Helen Holloway Free Clinic Doctor Female Holloway Women's Prison (U.K.) Nicky Guadagni
Rennes Prison escapist Male Centre pénitentiaire de Rennes (France) Wayne Robson
Alderson Unknown Male Alderson Federal Prison Camp (U.S.A.) Julian Richings


An episode of the original The Twilight Zone television series, Five Characters in Search of an Exit (first aired 22 December 1961), was reportedly an inspiration for the movie.[5][6][7]

After writing Cube, Vincenzo Natali developed and filmed a short entitled Elevated. The short was set in an elevator and was intended to give investors an idea of how Cube would hypothetically look and come across. It eventually got the feature financed. Cube was shot on a Toronto soundstage.[8]

The Cube design[edit]

The fictional Cube device in the film was conceived by David W. Pravica, a mathematician. It consists of an outer cubical shell (the sarcophagus) and the inner cube. One side of the outer shell is 434 feet long. The inner cube consists of 263 = 17,576 cubical rooms (minus an unknown amount of rooms to allow for movement, as shown in the film), each having a sidelength of 15.5 feet. There is a space of 15.5 feet between the cube and the shell. Each room is labelled with three identification numbers, for example, 517 478 565. These numbers encode the starting coordinates of the room and the x, y, and z coordinates are the sums of the digits of the first, second, and third number respectively. The numbers also determine the movement of the room and the subsequent positions are obtained by cyclically subtracting the digits from one another. The resulting numbers are then successively added to the starting numbers.[9]

Only one cube, measuring 14 by 14 by 14 feet, was actually built, with only one working door that could actually support the weight of the actors. The color of the room was changed by sliding panels.[10] Since this task was a time-consuming procedure, the movie was not shot in sequence; all shots taking place in rooms of a specific colour were shot one at a time. It was intended that there would be six different colours of rooms to match the recurring theme of six throughout the movie; five sets of gel panels plus pure white. However, the budget did not stretch to the sixth gel panel and so there are only five different room colours in the movie. Another partial cube was made for shots requiring the point of view of standing in one room looking into another.[11]

The Cube[edit]

The Cube is a gigantic structure in which the main characters are trapped. It is 434 feet cubed. Basically, they are free to roam it with no restrictions, although it is almost impossible to find an exit. The Cube consists of 17,576 rooms, and with the hypothesis that safe rooms and trap rooms have their numbers divided 50/50, 8,788 rooms contain traps, while the other 8,788 are safe rooms. The Cube consists of rooms free to enter and stay at, and others contain traps. Trap rooms consists of various traps, such as flamethrowers, liquid nitrogen sprayers or razor wires, designed to kill any person who enters it. All rooms contain numbers which indicate the specific coordinates and location of the room. The Cube is 26 rooms in width, depth and length.

All trap rooms contain sensors and all the traps are activated as soon as a person enters it. While most traps are activated by the sensitive floor sensors which will deploy the trap as soon as the floor is touched, several rooms contain heat sensors, which will activate if body heat is detected. One sensor was activated purely by sound, although a deliberate loophole allowed the hatch doors to be opened without activating the sensor. Because of the sensors, most traps can be avoided by throwing a boot in the room to inspect it. The trap rooms were placed by a certain pattern, indicated by the room numbers. If one number of the room was a prime power number, the room was trapped. The rooms also occasionally "move", and place themselves on another location to confuse the prisoners inside. One room, however, moves away from the Cube to the Cube's outer shell and acts like a bridge, and this is the only known exit from the Cube.

The Cube's purpose and builder are unknown. The Cube's design appears industrial, and the traps inside The Cube are all machine-made, and it appears that the Cube is entirely automated, and, even though there is no visible surveillance system, a theory is that the survivors are being monitored. Since the film reveals neither the location nor the precise date of the events, it is unclear whether it is set in the past or the future, and any hints as to the current outside world are deliberately avoided.

A group of people that are placed in the Cube appear to have been deliberately combined together with their skills and knowledge in order to solve the Cube and find an exit: Quentin, a police officer, has stamina and muscle and is good with logic and keeps the morale of the group. Dr. Helen Holloway, a medic, is familiar with the anatomy of a human body and can keep the group alive. David Worth, an architect, has knowledge of the Cube's outer shell and can deduct the size of the structure. Leaven, a student, is adept in mathematics and can solve the Cube's numerical code system to detect trapped rooms and their location in the room, with Kazan, an autistic savant, helping her by easily calculating complex equations, and Rennes is an escape artist and can identify the structure design as well as the traps. The final man, Alderson, who found himself alone, never met the group and died within minutes, although it was never confirmed if he was placed in the Cube before or after the other people in the Cube.

Subsequent sequels reveals that this is actually the second Cube built.


Cube polarised critics, with many highly positive reviews to negative, earning an overall approval rating of 62% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 37 reviews. Movie critics for Electric Sheep magazine, AMC's, and Empire Online gave the film positive reviews,[12][13][14] while critics for Nitrate Online and the San Francisco Chronicle panned the film.[15][16]

Bloody Disgusting gave the movie a positive review, writing, "Shoddy acting and a semi-weak script can't hold this movie back. It's simply too good a premise and too well-directed to let minor hindrances derail its creepy premise."[17]

"Vincenzo Natali's 1997 cult favorite has a Twilight Zone mood that's initially quite chilling — the victims try to come to grips with their bizarre surroundings and the tension mounting among each other." Nick Schager, this reviewer for Slant Magazine, added, "The struggle to discern the cube's purpose increasingly takes on prominence in the frazzled crew's search for answers, but Natali's film is infinitely more competent at creating a clever situation then [i.e., than] positing any sort of semi-logical explanation." Slant mostly panned the film, concluding with the line "like lab rats futilely running on their treadmill, Cube eventually winds up going nowhere fast.[sic]"[18]

The New York Times found a more positive reviewer in critic Anita Gates, who wrote, "Cube, the story in question, proves surprisingly gripping, in the best Twilight Zone tradition. The ensemble cast does an outstanding job on the cinematic equivalent of a bare stage... Everyone has his or her own theory about who is behind this peculiar imprisonment... The weakness in Cube is the dialogue, which sometimes turns remarkably trite... The strength is the film's understated but real tension. Vincenzo Natali, the film's fledgling director and co-writer, has delivered an allegory, too, about futility, about the necessity and certain betrayal of trust, about human beings who do not for a second have the luxury of doing nothing."[19]

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction neutrally described the movie as a "Mathematics-based Horror film."[20]


Main article: Cube (film series)

After Cube achieved cult status, a sequel was produced, Cube 2: Hypercube, released in 2002.[21]

In 2004, a prequel, Cube Zero, was released.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kornits, Dov (8 May 1999). "eFilmCritic – Director, Vincenzo Natali – Cube". Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  2. ^ "Cube (1998) – Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  3. ^ Gates, Anita (11 September 1998). "Cube (1997) FILM REVIEW; No Maps, Compasses Or Faith". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ "The Canadian Film Centre :: Our Projects". Retrieved 17 September 2012. 
  5. ^ Van Fleet, James (3 October 2013). "HALLOWEEN: The Best Twilight Zone Movies - 12: "Five Characters..." / Cube". Horror Films 101. Retrieved 23 May 2014. Imagine being dropped in an empty room. There's no exit... or if there is, the means of getting out are unknown. Imagine not being sure why you're there. Is there a purpose, or are you just being toyed with? Very quickly you learn about the people stuck with you. Very quickly the room becomes a prison... Five Characters In Search of an Exit has the benefit of brevity, but it also has an engaging episode-long "argument" between the gung-ho Major and the depressed Clown. Cube ... carries the same claustrophobia and mystery, and it amps up the potent allegory even further, becoming a microcosm of human existence. The characters define their identity, bring their talents to the problems at hand, and their environment - like the world - is as inscrutable as it is deadly. 
  6. ^ Eggert, Brian (19 May 2010). "Cube (1998)". Deep Focus Review. Retrieved 23 May 2014. Vincenzo Natali's Cube extends a scenario seemingly straight from The Twilight Zone for the duration of a full-length feature... filled with sharp ideas and a setup worthy of Franz Kafka..." 
  7. ^ Blake, Marc; Bailey, Sara (2013). Writing the Horror Movie. London ; New York: Bloomsbury. p. 137. Cube (1997) was reportedly influenced by a Twilight Zone episode, Five Characters in Search of an Exit, written by its creator Rod Serling. 
  8. ^ "". 2005-11-15. Archived from the original on 2006-02-11. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  9. ^ Polster, Burkard; Ross, Marty (2012). "6 Escape from the Cube". Math Goes to the Movies. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 85–96. ISBN 978-1-4214-0484-4. 
  10. ^ "". 1998-11-20. Retrieved 2011-02-21. 
  11. ^ Emmer, Michele; Manaresi, Mirella (2003). Mathematics, Art, Technology, and Cinema. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. pp. 172–180. ISBN 3-540-00601-X. 
  12. ^ Cube Electric Sheep Magazine
  13. ^ Cube
  14. ^ Cube Empire Online
  15. ^ Cube Nitrate Online
  16. ^ 'Cube's Cogs Stuck In Its Pure Visuals San Francisco Chronicle
  17. ^ Cube Bloody Disgusting
  18. ^ Schager, Nick (12 April 2003). "Cube". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  19. ^ Gates, Anita (11 September 1998). "Cube (1997) FILM REVIEW; No Maps, Compasses Or Faith". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2014. 
  20. ^ Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (2013). "Natali, Vincenzo". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St Martin's Griffin. 
  21. ^ "Cube 2: Hypercube". The New York Times. 
  22. ^ "Cube Zero". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]