Review: Cube / Cert: 15 / Director: Vincenzo Natali / Screenplay: Andre Bijevic, Vincenzo Natali, Graeme Manson / Starring: Maurice Dean Wint, David Hewlett, Nicole de Boer, Nicky Gaudagni / Release Date: October 15th
A low-budget Canadian film about maths. Doesn't exactly sound like a recipe for success, does it? But Cube, now appearing on Blu-ray for its 15th anniversary, also happens to be a classic sci-fi thriller. It's beautiful, scary, weird and as perfect as an equation.
The setup is genius. Six characters, dressed in army-drab boiler suits, wake up to find themselves trapped inside a series of interconnected boxes. These include Quentin (Wint), a burly cop who quickly becomes the group's alpha male; Holloway (Guadagni), a tightly wound doctor who badly needs a cigarette; Leaven (de Boer), a cute, bespectacled student; and limply defeatist Worth (Hewlett), who moans that he “wasn't exactly bursting with joie de vivre” even before winding up in this surreal prison.
Opinions differ as to why this is happening to them. Quentin thinks it's all some “rich psycho's joke”, while Holloway, a conspiracy theorist, points the finger at a nebulous military-industrial complex (“No one's ever going to call me paranoid again!”). One thing's for sure, getting out won't be easy, and not just because of the bewildering scale of the three-dimensional maze; there's also the small matter of the deadly booby traps lurking in some of the rooms.
Eventually, as they learn more about their mad environment, Leaven notices underlying patterns and starts to apply mathematical logic to the problem. Best not say any more about that as we don't want to spoil the fun, but the script (by director Vincenzo Natali and others) develops these twists and turns with consummate elegance, intercutting them with the slow fracturing of the group and the revelation of individual secrets.
Most movies inevitably date in some way or other, even if it's only in small details, but Cube looks like it could have been made yesterday. Glowing like Chinese lanterns, the giant boxes through which the characters troop give the film a striking visual coherence. The SFX are sparing but impressive, with some nerve-tingling slice 'n' dice and a jolting face-melting moment. And, working in what were presumably quite confined circumstances, cinematographer Derek Rogers does a spirited job of throwing around the camera for a gutsy, dynamic feel.
A far cry from the plastics who usually inhabit low-budget shockers, de Boer brings grit as well as sweetness to the part of Leaven. Meanwhile, Hewlett – known to fans of Stargate Atlantis as the lovable Dr. Rodney McKay – delivers a typically smart, nervy performance.
A whiff of symbolism about the human condition only adds to the mythic appeal of a story which has been imitated – most notably in Saw – but never bettered. And anything that makes maths cool has to be good.