Friday, January 16, 2015

A Ghoul Versus The Cube (1997)

Don't look for a reason, look for a way out.”

You know what the Maze Runner reminded me of with its premise of strangers waking up in a deadly maze with no idea how they got there, forced to work together to escape? The Cube, that nearly forgotten cult classic that is nearly twenty years old already. How forgotten is it? So lost to the sands of time that I forget to mention it when doing my Saw reviews, since the franchises had a lot in common... well, at least in the beginning.

Co-written and directed by the excellent Vincenzo Natali, the Cube was filmed in less than a month on a micro budget of $350,000 dollars and premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 9, 1997. It's highly unique plot attracted a lot of attention, especially with fans of the horror genre which was floundering at the time. It would go on to spawn a sequel and a prequel, but neither ever hit the popularity of the film film and kind of relegated the series into the background as Saw stepped onto the stage and spent the next decade changing the face of the genre.

Let's get ready to take a trip down memory lane as we step into the world of the Cube with A Ghoul Versus The Cube! And don't touch ANYTHING without making sure it's safe first!

We open with a bald man waking up in the eponymous Cube, which is lined with white techno-tiles and has a hatch on each of its walls in addition to one on the ceiling and floor. He opens one at random, peering through a short crawlspace to an identical cube room, only this one is blue. He tries the floor hatch next, finding himself looking down at a red room. He opens another wall hatch, this one showing an orange room. He enters it and almost immediately is sliced to pieces by a giant grate of razor wire, the camera showing us the name “Alderson” on his clothes as he falls apart.

We cut to another cube, where a bloodied man crawls out of a hatch into the room which has an unconscious man lying on the floor. He wakes him up, but before they get a chance to speak a woman enters the room from a wall hatch. They're soon joined by another man and a woman, and it looks like we have ourselves a full side for a Cube Survival Team! Let's meet the players:
  • Quentin, played by Maurice Dean Wint. He's been acting steadily since 1987, as well as doing a fair amount of voice over work for video games. The Cube is easily his largest starring role.
  • Worth, played by David Hewlett. Another actor with a large filmography of bit parts, he's high school friends with Natali and has acted in many of his films.
  • Leaven, played by Nicole de Boer. Easily the biggest star in this thing, she's best known for her role of Erzi Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  • Holloway, played by Nicky Guadagni. Many small roles in her career, she was in the film adaption of Silent Hill as “Distressed Woman”.
  • Rennes, played by Wayne Robson. The oldest of the group, he has over 150 roles in his forty plus years of acting. Keep an eye out for him in my upcoming Wrong Turn and Incredible Hulk reviews, they're going to be fun!
Rennes is all action, opening a hatch and throwing one of his boots in to reveal the room is laced with flamethrowers. Quentin is our voice of reason because he's a police officer, tries to get everyone to calm down by asking if they remember how they got there. No one remembers, but all realized they were kidnapped at night time. They agree to try to escape the Cube together by going in a straight line, Rennes testing the rooms with his boot to see if they're trapped or not. As they travel, Leaven notices a series of numbers carved into a tiny plate in one of the crawl spaces.

Worth speculates they're serial numbers, meaning there could be MILLIONS of cubes in the complex. Holloway, who is a doctor, says if that's true they have less than three days to escape before they succumb to dehydration and/or starvation. Real ray of sunshine, this one. Quentin begins to wonder how Rennes is such an expert at attempt escape before he realizes he's an infamous criminal nicknamed “the Wren” who has flown the coup on seven previous occasions. This is also a good time to point out how every character in the movie is named after a real life prison, from San Quentin to Leavenworth to the Holloway Women's Prison in the United Kingdom. Cute detail.

Rennes gives everyone a quick pep talk about how they need to ONLY focus on the task at hand, the key is to save themselves from themselves. I like this guy! Too bad the very next scene he enters a cube that sprays acid on him and MELTS HIS FUCKING FACE OFF! Everyone despairs some more until Leaven, a mathematician in school, examines the serial numbers further and concludes that the ones with prime numbers indicate rooms that are lethal. This leads to a montage of our little group traveling from cube to cube while Leaven crunches numbers in her head, as we see Holloway is starting to crack under the pressure.

Things grind to a halt when they enter a cube that is trapped on all sides, with the exception of the ceiling. Quentin climbs up to read the numbers to Leaven, opening the hatch to reveal a man on the other side that drops into the room. He casually looks around, announces the room is green, and begins to beat his head against the wall. Holloway says he's autistic, trying to reason with him as all he wants to do is go back to the blue room. She reads the name Kazan off his uniform, which is the name of a Russian prison.

They continue on until Quentin enters a room Leaven declared was safe, only to have a razor wire trap spring up around him. He jumps out in time, but sustains a nasty wound on his leg. He begins to argue with Worth, who has done fuck all the entire movie except be as unhelpful as possible. Worth slips and says there is no way out of the cube, revealing he helped to design the outer shell. He was contracted by strangers to help draft up blueprints for the complex, dealing with them over the phone and never meeting with them. His belief is the original intention for the cube has long since been forgotten, and people are being put in it just for it to be used. Um... okay?

Leaven quizzes Worth about the size of his plans, figuring out the serial numbers actually function as coordinates for their location within the structure. They make their way to the edge, finding their next obstacle in a blue room full of sound activated spikes. They QUIETLY sneak their way through the room in a very tense scene, Kazan almost getting Quentin killed by making a noise. Quentin turns on him but Holloway stops him, getting smacked across her face for doing so. Well, this is just going GREAT. Worth opens the next hatch to reveal the outside of the cube, which is a dark space with endless rows of other hatches. They make a giant rope out of their jackets and pants so Holloway can go searching for the exit, but finds nothing.

She slips and begins to fall, Quentin rushing to the edge of the hatch to grab her. They smile at each other, Holloway's face quickly turning to shock as he begins to scowl at her. He lets go of her hand, dropping her to her death. He crawls back inside the cube and puts on his best sad face, no one else aware he intentionally let go of her. With everyone exhausted both physically and mentally, they decide to take a nap. Quentin wakes up early and carries Leaven to another cube, telling her the others are dead weight.

Quentin then goes full on creeper, ranting about how they're the perfect match while he touches her in a most inappropriate fashion. She runs away from him, Worth and Kazan entering the cube to turn the tables on him after he says he let Holloway die. Quentin responds by SAVAGELY beating Worth and throwing him down the floor hatch, surprised when Worth begins to laugh. They crawl down to see what he's laughing at, discovering they're back in the cube with Rennes' body. Quentin sinks to the floor and begins to cry at the reveal that they've been going in circles, but Worth says that's impossible because they would have hit the edge before.

He posits the cubes THEMSELVES have been moving, which explains a mechanical sound they've been hearing from time to time. This gives Leaven the proverbial light bulb over her head as she begins reeling off all kinds of tech talk, concluding she knows exactly where the exit is. There's a catch though, she can't crunch the numbers to figure out where the traps are because they're way too big and she's lacking a calculator. Good thing they just happen to have a resident Rain Man handy, who is able to do it in his head because we ALL knew that was coming. Using him as a guide they press on, Worth getting his revenge on Quentin by dropping him down a floor hatch and knocking him out.

The three press on, making it to a cube that Leaven announces will take them to the exit the next time it moves. They wait in anticipation as it does, Kazan opening the hatch to flood the room with a blinding light. But instead of entering it like they should, they take the time to... sit down and talk?! Oh come the fuck on! And look, there's Quentin who teleports into the room and stabs Leaven through the chest with a spike. You can't say she didn't have that one coming. He stabs worth as well, going after Kazan who jumps into the light. Quentin grabs him but is in turn grabbed by Worth, who holds him in place as the room moves and rips him in half. The final shot is Kazan walking into the light, because you knew DAMN WELL the movie was going to end like that.

Cue the credits.

This one hasn't aged as well as I'd hoped. It still has off the charts tension and some BRILLIANT cinematography that creates an oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere, highlighted by the wise decision to keep the cameras very close to the actors to make every scene feel cramped and uncomfortable. And I have no problems with the total lack of answers or story, it was never meant to be that kind of movie, so we're all good there.

The most glaring problem is the acting, or rather, the LACK of acting. The actors are outright atrocious here, deteriorating into borderline cartoon characters by the end when they confuse acting with shouting. Holloway's actress deserves to be singled out here, because WOW she was cringe worthy in this one. Quentin's transformation into Every Psycho Ever wasn't handled believably either, he just dropped into the realm of maniacal madman WAY too abruptly.

In a film with nothing else to drive the story besides the characters, you really want interesting characters that you can get behind and root for. The Cube gave us none of these, instead substituting a cast of disposable and shrill people you really didn't mind dying. Even the largely sympathetic Leaven was rendered bland thanks to a very dull performance by Nicole de Boer where her entire style was “based on furrow her brow at numbers in-between calling Quentin names”.

It also doesn't help we've seen this type of story a billion times over, as this formula has been copied time and time again across the horror and thriller genres. It's the mark of a good movie that inspires endless clones is to still remain fresh and memorable years later, COUGH COUGH John Carpenter's Halloween COUGH COUGH, the Cube fails to rise to that level. It's still a very compelling movie thanks to its concept and camera work, but doesn't have the performances that it needed to truly make it an all time classic. Moderate recommendation here for fans of something original, although I'll give it much higher marks if you're really into math because how often do you see a horror thriller where advanced mathematics figure prominently into the plot?

Let's see how the sequel fares...