Retro Rewatch Cube 1997


Retro Rewatch is an ongoing editorial that takes a look into certain films, conventions, crazes, and characters of the horror genre years after their heyday. It is an effort to try and put the magnifying glass up to the horror world with the much needed luxuries of time and perspective applied in order to fully understand the impact and social significance of these projects/themes/ideas (if any). So for this installment of Retro Rewatch, I present to you the underground classic Cube. Spoilers lie ahead!

It’s always fun contributing to this column, especially when you come across facts and observations that have somehow previously eluded you.  For example, when re-watching and researching today’s movie Cube, I noticed that there were a number of great genre films released in 1996 and 1997.  The list includes past entries such as Event Horizon and From Dusk till Dawn as well as a number of great titles (future entries?) such as Mimic, The Devil’s Advocate, Scream, and The Frighteners.  These movies are personal favorites of mine and I’m not saying that they are all masterpieces but this oversaturation with at least entertaining genre flick may explain why a sensational independent film such as Cube went mostly unnoticed.

Seven strangers wake up small multicolored square rooms with no recollection of how they got there.  Wearing uniforms resembling a mix between prison garb and military BDUs having only their names on them, they must now fight starvation and dehydration and find their way out of the cube.  There are hatched doors on every side of the rooms giving them 6 different options of which way to advance while at the same time half the rooms are armed with deadly traps ranging from acid and blades to sound activated pokers. 

Sounds like an extremely interesting premise with a ton of potential doesn’t it?  The problem with a synopsis like that is that it is so often the case where the pitch sounds so amazing but then as the script unfolds and production barrels forward, people cut corners.  Soon your amazing pitch idea has turned into something drab, boring, and predictable.  Fortunately for the viewer this never happens with Cube.  What makes Cube so special is the careful crafting of the story.  By throwing in people that don’t know anything about each other, it would have been simple to have every character explain who they are and what they do.  And why wouldn’t they?  It does make sense in the situation that they would divulge information to each other, but in this case we don’t get seven explanation Eddies.  We have people whose attributes have to be practically pulled out of them as if there was a fight for every single fact divulged by them.  Any educated and seasoned film watcher can piece together the various clues that these people are supposed to work as a team to reach their goal but it is never explicitly said or agreed upon. 

Within the group we have an expert in the art of the escape, a High School math whiz, a police officer, a nurse, a quiet Nihilist, and an autistic man.  We never find out why it is specifically these people but we can guess enough that they are all valuable pieces of the puzzle to make a solidified unit to get out of the Cube.  That is the absolute beauty of the film where as the reasons that the people are there, and in fact the entire existence of the Cube is completely left up to speculation.  This leads to the perfect execution of what I’m calling ground level story telling.  We never leave the cube.  We never see the explanation of why the cube was built.  We never see a wide shot of the cube showing it to be larger than Los Angeles because when you are in on the ground level of the cube with these characters, nothing bigger that the present problems are addressed, because they do not matter.

It doesn’t matter where the cube came from, who built it, why it exists, or why these people were chosen.  All that matters is getting out of the cube and after a bit of exposition, the characters start to work as a unit to reach the edge of the cube.   Soon we find out that the numbers identifying the starting place of each shifting cube is a number that delineates location by following a complicated math formula (something about prime numbers and 3d XYZ stuff, don’t ask me I never did well in math) and is thusly cracked quickly by the autistic man.  At this point, it doesn’t feel like a cop out, but rather a fitting conclusion to the question of why he is even there.  At first he was a burden, then he almost gets people killed, then it turns out that he saves the day.  I originally thought that he was some kind of social experiment to see if the other members would abandon him or make him kill himself by jumping into traps, but they never did.

All in all Cube isn’t the best film that was ever created, but it is a masterful work of small budget independent storytelling that doesn’t take you for an idiot.  Cube is one of those rare movies that actually believes in its audience rather than holds their hands and spells everything out for them as if they were a ten year old child who wandered into the film half way through.  We are given only what is needed to tell the story whereas you would think that it would get boring have seven people in one room, but it never does. 

Is it a cult classic, a fitting analysis, or complete forgettable?:  It’s a definite Cult classic manufactured by a small Canadian Film Company before they went belly up.  Think I’m out of my mind?  Take a survey, and ask 10 people what they thought of Cube.  Seven people will have no idea what the hell you are talking about, four of them will say they have seen the movie and thought it was great, and the other person will be the poor soul who sat through the sequels.  Either way, the fans are there if you can find them

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