Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Vincenzo Natali|
|Produced by||Mehra Meh
|Written by||André Bijelic
|Starring||Nicole de Boer
Maurice Dean Wint
|Music by||Mark Korven|
|Edited by||John Sanders|
|Distributed by||Trimark Pictures|
|Release dates||9 September 1997 (Toronto International Film Festival)
11 September 1998 (United States)
|Running time||90 minutes|
Cube is a 1997 Canadian science fiction psychological horror film, directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali. The film was a successful product of the Canadian Film Centre's First Feature Project.
A man named Alderson (Julian Richings) awakens and finds himself in a cube-shaped room with a hatch in each wall, the floor, and the ceiling. Opening some of the hatches, he finds passages to rooms that are identical except for their colors. He enters an orange room and, without warning, is sliced to pieces by a wire grill which kills him instantly.
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 cubes 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 doctor and conspiracy theorist who thinks the "military industrial complex" is responsible for their predicament, and the surly Worth declines to talk about himself or his past. 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.
Quentin enters a room determined safe by Leaven's calculations, but is nearly killed by a razor-wire trap. Tensions rise due to personality conflicts and the group's lack of confidence in Leaven's system. Quentin provokes Worth into an argument about finding the exit, and Worth insists there is no escape. Worth admits that he designed the Cube's outer shell for a shadowy bureaucracy. He denies knowing anything else about it but guesses that its original purpose has been forgotten, and that they have been imprisoned within simply to put it to use (so that the organisation could avoid admitting that the Cube was a waste of time and money). His knowledge of the outer shell's size allows Leaven to determine that each side of the Cube is 26 rooms across, for 17,576 rooms in all. She guesses that the numbers indicate the Cartesian coordinates of the rooms. The group starts moving toward the nearest edge as determined by her theory.
Believing themselves near the outer wall of the Cube, they find that each neighboring room is trapped. Rather than backtrack, they decide to make their way silently through a blue coloured room whose trap is activated by sound. The passage is without incident until Kazan makes a noise during Quentin's transit of the room and Quentin is almost impaled by spikes. Upon reaching safety, he threatens Kazan with violence, terrifying 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.
Worth opens a door under Quentin's orders. On the other side, they find a wide, unlit gap between the Cube and the outer shell. Tying together their clothing to make a rope, Holloway swings out to investigate but nearly falls when the Cube quakes violently. Quentin takes the opportunity to drop her to her death, and he tells the others that she slipped. After coming to terms with the tragedy, they take a nap to recover from exhaustion.
Quentin wakes up early and carries Leaven to another room without alerting the others. He tries to persuade her to abandon the others with him. He then makes a sexual advance but she rejects him, and Quentin becomes aggressive. When Worth finds them and intervenes, Quentin beats him savagely and drops him through the 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 has an epiphany, realizing that the rooms themselves are moving periodically relative to each other, and this movement is responsible for the rumbling sounds and violent quaking.
Leaven deduces that traps are not tagged by prime numbers, but by powers of prime numbers. Leaven realizes that Kazan is an autistic savant who can quickly do prime factorisations mentally, much to Quentin's surprise. Leaven determines that the numbers indicate the positions within the cube where each room rests between moves through the Cube. The room that connects to the "bridge" leading to the only door in the outer shell proves to be the one in which the group first woke up. The alignment they need to escape will come in two moves.
Worth pre-emptively ambushes Quentin and leaves him behind during room movement, then he, Leaven, and Kazan hurry to the cube adjoining the bridge. When they open the hatch, they are bathed in a bright white light. Kazan enters the bridge room. Worth decides to stay behind; he insists there is nothing outside for him but "boundless human stupidity". Leaven objects and convinces Worth to join her, but Quentin suddenly reappears and fatally stabs Leaven and then Worth. Quentin moves to kill Kazan, but with the last of his strength Worth grabs Quentin's leg, pinning him in the passageway between rooms as the rooms shift again. Quentin is torn apart while Worth succumbs to his own wounds, dying seconds later. Left alone in the bridge, Kazan walks slowly into the bright light.
- Maurice Dean Wint as Quentin; a police officer. He is a gruff and aggressive man who takes charge and undertakes most of the dangerous tasks. He is said to be in his 40s.
- Nicole de Boer as Leaven, a young student with mathematical skills. She is said to be in her early 20s.
- Nicky Guadagni as Dr Helen Holloway, a free clinic doctor and a paranoid conspiracy theorist. She is said to be in her early 50s.
- David Hewlett as David Worth, a chronic malcontent and cynic who unwittingly designed the outer shell of the Cube. He is said to be in late 20s to early 30s.
- Andrew Miller as Kazan, an autistic man with the ability to rapidly and accurately perform prime number calculations. He is said to be in his 20s.
- Wayne Robson as Rennes, also known as "the Wren", an escape artist who has gotten out of seven prisons. He is said to be in his early 60s.
- Julian Richings as Alderson, a prisoner and an unknown character. He woke up in another room and never met the rest of the group.
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.
The Cube design
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.
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. 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.
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 Filmcritic.com, and Empire Online gave the film positive reviews, while critics for Nitrate Online and the San Francisco Chronicle panned the film.
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."
"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]"
Many reviewers felt conflicted about their reactions to the movie. For example, the Reel Film Reviews website gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, writing, "There's little doubt that Cube gets off to an impressively engrossing start... a solid introduction that paves the way for a sporadically captivating yet decidedly uneven narrative... The inclusion of several absolutely spellbinding stretches - [e.g.] the survivors attempt to cross a trap-laden room without making a sound - goes a long way towards sustaining one's interest through the erratic midsection... The movie rebounds nicely for an impressively enthralling final stretch, however, which ultimately does cement Cube's place as an inventive (if inconsistent) bit of sci-fi fun."
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."
- Kornits, Dov (8 May 1999). "eFilmCritic – Director, Vincenzo Natali – Cube". eFilmcritic.com. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
- "Cube (1998) – Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
- Gates, Anita (11 September 1998). "Cube (1997) FILM REVIEW; No Maps, Compasses Or Faith". The New York Times.
- "The Canadian Film Centre :: Our Projects". cfccreates.com. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
- 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."
- 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...""
- 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."
- "CBC.ca". CBC.ca. 2005-11-15. Archived from the original on 2006-02-11. Retrieved 2011-02-21.
- 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.
- "Sfgate.com". Sfgate.com. 1998-11-20. Retrieved 2011-02-21.
- Emmer, Michele; Manaresi, Mirella (2003). Mathematics, Art, Technology, and Cinema. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. pp. 172–180. ISBN 3-540-00601-X.
- Cube Electric Sheep Magazine
- Cube Filmcritic.com
- Cube Empire Online
- Cube Nitrate Online
- 'Cube's Cogs Stuck In Its Pure Visuals San Francisco Chronicle
- Cube Bloody Disgusting
- Schager, Nick (12 April 2003). "Cube". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
- Gates, Anita (11 September 1998). "Cube (1997) FILM REVIEW; No Maps, Compasses Or Faith". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
- Clute, John; Nicholls, Peter (2013). "Natali, Vincenzo". The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. New York: St Martin's Griffin.
- "Cube 2: Hypercube". The New York Times.
- "Cube Zero". The New York Times.
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