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solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris
Imagine waking up inside a Rubik’s cube built by Jigsaw but without the bragging and plot exposition done via a puppet on a tricycle and you have the premise of Cube, a psychological sci-fi thriller/horror from 1997, which has become somewhat of a cult classic and a hit with the ladies (this last part may not be entirely accurate).
Directed by Vincenzo Natali (director of the recently released Splice) and mostly shot on a handy cam this low budget film, whilst more intelligent than a lot of its counterparts, isn’t as thrilling or horrifying as I’d been lead to believe. It shouldn’t be the centrepiece of anyone’s Halloween film night but at the same time wouldn’t be a bad choice to put on the list. It’s like watching Paranormal Activity, except in this case you’re just mildly disappointed it didn’t live up to the hype instead of discovering you’ve absent-mindedly torn the skin off your own torso because it’s more entertaining than watching precisely fuck all happen for an hour and a half.
Whilst the cube itself is supposed to have a total of 17,576 rooms, the film crew only built a single room, which saves a lot of redundancy as, for one thing, you obviously don’t get to see all 17,576 rooms and you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart at a glance if you did. Which I guess is why I’m grateful that the film wasn’t filmed 5 or 10 years later than it was, as I get the feeling that if it had been one of the rooms would probably have featured a poster proclaiming ‘You don’t have to be mad to be stuck here but it helps!’ intended as some kind of jab at nothing in particular but interpreted as really quite a clever metaphor if you read too much into it.
Given the modest set & that it is a ‘psychological’ horror/thriller, the plot inevitably focuses on character development and their interaction. This would be all well and good if the characters were people you didn’t half wish would fall victim to one of the many traps the Cube has to offer. Ignoring the person who lasts a grand total of 3 minutes (and whom seems to be paid homage to in the first Resident Evil film), the film follows six people as they try to figure out how to escape. Being all named after prisons around the world, they have pretty much singularly defined personalities and roles (which IMDB claims is in keeping with the ‘personalities’ of the prisons, so there you go), which is one of the things that keeps you emotionally distant from the characters. It’s difficult to feel for a character who is a cross between a stoner who listen to a lot of Rage Against The Machine and the kind of middle aged woman who bakes cookies for the local church group but runs over your cat because it made a mess on her front lawn.
That and the fact that one or two of the characters develop in such a bizarrely rushed way that it almost feels like an old black and white film where everything is slightly faster than usual and the actions are all overly dramatized. The cop, for instance, goes from being Mr Practicality to Mr Homicidal Maniac in the space of a few minutes, inevitably and predictably becoming the End Boss© fight. This, in case you hadn’t guessed, is shown by the all-too-familiar ‘woozy’ style camera shots whilst the character looks like he’s being repeatedly kicked in the genitals but desperately trying to hide it. It didn’t develop the personality of the character for me as much as it made me question the alcoholic content of my cup of tea (yes I’m British and subsequently no, I cannot watch a film without a cup of tea).
As this is a more intelligent film than your average ‘people get mutilated’ offering, it does mean there has to be grating social commentary at some point, which you get with lines as philosophically lucid as:
The soundtrack that sporadically pops up throughout the film reminds me of something that Trent Reznor or Charlie Clouser might cook up in their spare time, which isn’t a bad thing. I personally think the film would have been better without any music, but as it goes it doesn’t ruin the atmosphere and seems to work after a while. Though what sounds like lazy scatting jars the first time you hear it.
Just to be clear, it’s not a bad movie and it is genuinely clever at times, but for a film where characters are everything, it doesn’t move beyond cardboard cut-outs. This might work from an art house point of view (but I’m not convinced that it was made with this in mind) but doesn’t work from a view where you’re not a pretentious dick who probably doesn’t shut up about how great the band Tool are. And Tool really aren’t that great. You dick.