Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Ghoul Versus The Cube 2: Hypercube

Welcome to How Not To Do A Sequel To A Popular Film 101, starring the Cube 2: Hypercube.”

Previously on The Cube...

Five extremely unlikeable people woke up in a deadly complex called the Cube and ended up being more dangerous to themselves than the trap filled rooms. Hey, I just realized how important Rennes' advice about saving themselves from themselves was!

1997's the Cube is a great example of a sleeper hit, although this one had to wait until home video to really find its audience since it had an extremely limited theatrical run. Producers saw potential to make more money with a sequel, so in 2001 they got the cameras rolling on a new one. Cinematographer Andrzej Sekula was tapped to direct it, based on his legendary camera work in all time classics such as Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. The fairly new to Hollywood writer Sean Hood wrote the script, a name you might recognize if you're heavily into the horror genre as he's the man who helped bring us the screenplay for the wretched Halloween: Resurrection, a movie so bad it killed the franchise dead until Rob Zombie dug it up to kill it deaderer.

Although to be fair, Hood just did punch ups on an already atrocious script so he can't be blamed at all for how bad that movie was. I'm going to go ahead and say the same thing about this movie, as he wrote the original script but had it SEVERELY rewritten by the producer of the film, Ernie Barbarash. Hood has been quoted as saying “virtually every word of [his] script was tossed”, the only things to survive were some of the characters' traits along with the concept of the new cube. He runs a very fascinating blog called Genre Hacks where he talks about the screenwriting process and the evil that are rewrites, it's a highly interesting corner of the internet I'd recommend checking out when you have the time. Just not yet though, because it's time for A Ghoul Versus The Cube 2: Hypercube!

We open with an overhead pan of eight people asleep on gurneys- wait, EIGHT PEOPLE?! Holy shit, that's more than any of the Saw sequels! The death toll better be coming quick for half of this cast, I really don't want to have to be keeping track of that many people. This transitions to an extreme close up of an eye... which is how the last film opened up as well. Between shots of the eye we get quick flashbacks of the eye's owner, a female scientist working in a lab, the camera lingering over her ID to name her as Rebecca Young of the Izon company. Rebecca wakes up to find herself in a white cube room, which definitely looks more high budget than the last one. Note this isn't a good thing, as it's all shiny and sterile looking as opposed to the first film's dark and dingy rooms. She finds her attention drawn to a panel on the wall, touching it to make it slide open into a small crawlspace leading to another room.

She crawls through and is instantly sucked up into the air as we cut to the opening credits. The very, VERY long opening credits. Five hours later the movie begins with an older man in a business suit opening a sliding panel looking for “the numbers”, but doesn't find any. We cut to another room where a blonde woman finds a man in a leather jacket lying on the floor, checking to see if he's alive and getting a knife held to her face for her trouble. He grills her for information, but let's her go when he realizes she knows as much as he does.

A young man pokes his head through a ceiling panel, blondie taking off in pursuit of him. She instead finds a teenage girl named Sasha, who is blind. Blondie introduces herself as Kate, establishing herself as the “nice one” as she tries to console the scared girl. A nerdy man named Jerry enters the room, actually having the brains to scratch a mark into the wall so he can know if he returns there again. That's freaking smart! He mentions he's been trapped for hours but kept going into the same three rooms no matter where he went, Kate speculating that means the rooms must be moving since this film obviously wants to get all of the set up out of the way as fast as possible.

They hear a loud noise which terrifies Sasha, who thinks something is coming for them. They flee the room to find themselves in the one the suit wearing man was in, only now he's trying to hang himself with his belt. The young man from earlier is holding him up, desperately trying to save his life. Leather Jacket joins the party to help get him down, the group lowering him to the floor. They find his wallet, which identifies him as Colonel Thomas Maguire of the Department of Defense. The young man recognizes him, as he once busted a friend of his for cracking the Pentagon mainframe a few years ago. Kate's dialogue with him has me reconsidering calling her “the nice” one as she already has a bad habit of cracking unfunny one liners, perhaps I should call her “the Margaret Cho”? Everyone finishes introducing themselves, and I think we finally have every character in this movie named:
  • Kate, the blonde yet painfully not as funny as she thinks she is lead
  • Simon, the leather jacketed tough guy
  • Sasha, the blind girl
  • Max, the young hacker
  • Jerry, the sci-fi dork
  • Thomas, the military man complete with action suit and suicide belt
Simon observes Thomas has been tortured, as he's been beaten badly and has cigarette burns on his hand. Max starts to wonder why Simon is such an expert on torture when the tone of this movie goes TOTALLY out the window as an old crazy lady named Mrs. Paley shows up, wondering which way the shower room is because she's gotten lost. Oh what the actual fuck, is this a comedy now?! She yuks it up with our cast of characters, thinking she's in a gym somewhere. Oh HA HA HA! This entire scene plays like a Saturday Night Live skit as Mrs. Paley drones on senile style, every other actor now looking very embarrassed to be in this movie rather than scared.

A strange CGI effect washes over the room as Sasha states once again she can hear “it” getting closer, and now I suddenly realize what movie this is ripping off: Stephen King's the Langoliers, which also featured a blind girl warning a colourful cast of idiots about impending doom. If she starts talking about a horrible cereal noise, I am ending this review immediately. Simon, in a vain attempt to turn this back into a serious movie, roughly tries to wake up Thomas with the power of bad acting. Thomas opens his eyes, mumbling about how if you get the code you get out and how “the first one” had rules, which pretty much destroys the mystique of the first film if it was all just some military operation. More shitty CGI effects break out all over the room, as the art department tries to master all the new plugs in for their Photoshop program.

The effects turn into a wall, advancing towards our idiots. Thomas refuses to leave and is killed while everyone climbs into the next room. It chases them through several rooms, removing Jerry's markings on each panel because it's a dick like that. They make it to the tenth room, where Jerry decides it's a good of a time as any to reveal he designed the touch-activated panels in the complex. Yeah, that's something I totally wouldn't have mentioned right off the bat. I hate this movie. Kate asks why the fuck he didn't say this earlier, but he dismisses it with he signed a confidentiality agreement. I HATE THIS MOVIE. And if you're keeping score, we have now have a character involved in the design of the cube... just like the last movie.

Jerry, like Worth, doesn't know anything beyond that since he was a sub-contractor, but admits he heard rumours the project involved quantum teleportation. Sure, why the fuck not?! Kate partially shares my thoughts as she comments this whole thing is getting ridiculous, but she's about fifteen minutes too late on that particular observation. Simon's interrogation of Jerry is interrupted by Mrs. Paley, who spots what she calls a tesseract design on the floor. This excites Jerry, who starts to go off on a tech talk rant about how the rooms mirror such a design, aka a four dimensional hypercube and how it could be conducive to quantum mechanics. I no longer care in the slightest, can we PLEASE start killing some of these people?

During this endless dialogue, Jerry happens to glance up and sees the number 60659 carved into the ceiling. Mrs. Paley, who is now an expert on quantum mechanics, states that a hypercube could have millions upon millions of rooms. Unlike the first film where everyone despaired over the fact the cube was much larger than they thought, these jokers start getting wisecracks in. Max, as bored as I am, opens a panel to GTFO of this movie when he spots a beautiful woman asleep in the next room. He goes in to talk to her when gravity goes all crazy on him, the young hacker holding onto the panel for dear life.

Using handlebars along the walls, he's able to climb down to the floor where the inverted gravity effect doesn't apply. Kate joins him, while Simon and Jerry tie their clothes together to create a rope for Mrs. Paley and Sasha so they can easily climb down... you know, like in the last movie? The woman, who is named Julia, asks if she's been kidnapped, which leads to a repeat of the “how did we get here?” scene... just like the last, ah screw it. You get the point. The film tries to make this insanely boring conversation at least visually exciting by using split screen flashbacks as the characters narrate the last thing they remember, but it fails and fails HARD.

Kate starts strolling around, finding another number carved onto the floor. This one is 1111606590000, Max keying in on the idea that maybe they aren't room numbers. Simon does some exploring of his own, finding a watch that is identical to the one Jerry wears right down to the inscription from his wife on the back. Wanting to get in on this whole foreign concept of “people fucking doing SOMETHING in a movie”, Mrs. Paley opens a panel to find ANOTHER person in the next room. Good God, this thing's going to have a cast bigger than Gandhi when all is said and done. To my immense relief this guy is dead, his chest covered in mathematical equations. Mrs. Paley of all people recognizes him as Dr. Phil Rosenzweig, a world famous physicist. Rosenzweig suddenly lifts his head for JUMP SCARE PSYCHE before letting out a dying breath. Fuck this movie forever.

They find more of his handwriting on the walls, including the mysterious 60659 showing up again. Mrs. Paley begins to call out for her lost dog Izon, whom all of the men recognize as a famed weapons manufacturing company. Gee, where have we heard Izon before? It's almost like this movie is trying to tie all of its bullshit together or something. Simon changes the subject to dispel Kate's suspicion, asking Mrs. Paley what she does for a living. She says she's retired but used to be a theoretical mathematician, because OF COURSE she was. I find that as believable as the fact this movie is meant to be taken seriously.

Continuing to search for her dog she opens the floor panel, finding herself on the other side. Her doppelganger begs for help before she's stabbed by Doppelganger Simon, who warns all of them not to trust her. He's then decapitated by a CGI effect, the panel slamming shut. Oh, how I wish that wasn't doppelgangers that just got killed. Jerry says this was a parallel reality, something that can happen when quantum fields are involved. This turns into another endless conversation, only this is the worst one yet because Sekula thinks it'd be awesome to spin the camera around everyone. This is the man who did the cinematography for Reservoir Dogs, a movie that featured almost NOTHING but talking?! I am getting fucking DIZZY right now watching this.

With absolutely nothing resolved, the group decides to trek on. We're treated to an exciting CLIMBING THROUGH PANELS montage in slow motion, which actually might be the most thrilling thing to happen in this trainwreck so far. They also talk about Alex Trusk, a world famous cyber-terrorist that Mrs. Paley mentioned during one of her delusions. Max is convinced Trusk is the one who put them in the cube, because he likes to create Godawful movies apparently. This montage proves to be so tedious that everyone stops for a nap, LIKE THEY DID IN THE LAST MOVIE. Simon and Jerry stay awake however, Simon revealing he's really a private investigator hired to find Becky Young. Hey, I remember her because she's EASILY the best character in the entire movie!

Hearing a noise, Sasha wakes up to announce there's something in the room. It's a small rotating diamond in the middle of the room that quickly morphs into a small hypercube. Sasha continues to channel the blind girl from the Langoliers by saying how wrong it sounds, proven correct when it turns solid and starts bouncing around the room dangerously. It ends up tearing Jerry to pieces (yay!), everyone else except Sasha running into the next room. Kate goes to rescue her, despite the fact the cube has morphed into a giant vortex of death that looks like it was rendered on a Sony PlayStation One. Naturally the cube vanishes before it can kill them, because there is no way in hell this movie has the guts to kill a teenage girl. Kind of deflates any tension this scene might have had knowing that.

Meanwhile, Simon does his best to channel Quentin (psst... from the last movie!) as he goes off the deep end and stabs Mrs. Paley to death. This triggers the CGI blades from the parallel reality, but this time he gets away before getting separated from his head. Max and Julia run from him, so now we have THREE different plotlines we're supposed to give a damn about. As long as all of them end in death I won't complain. I get the literal opposite of my wish as Simon runs into Doppelganger Jerry, who has no idea who he is. They're adding people back into the movie?! No. SO MUCH NO. Simon asks him if he's hungry and then the scene just ends. How much time do we have left? Half an hour?! RHAAAARGH!

Kate and Sasha make their way into the next room, which contains skeletal remains of the entire cast, who must have starved to death in a different reality. That, or just died from the overpowering shame of being in this movie. Hey, what are what's-his-name and who's-her-ass up to? Look at that, Max confesses he built a time skip program that's being used in the cube while Julia admits to being an Izon lawyer. Whatever. We return to Simon, who is now alone in the room. Did he EAT Doppelganger Jerry? If he did, I might actually have to give this movie some points. He hears a voice in the next room, going over to find ANOTHER Jerry. IS THERE A POINT TO THIS FUCKING MOVIE?!

What's that you're saying? You want another grand reveal of a character that knows more than they're letting on? Today's your lucky day, because now Sasha tells Kate she found out “they” were putting people in the cube and tried to blow the whistle, only to have “them” come after her. She decided the safest place would be the cube itself, since they'd never dare follow her there. If this were a real movie I'd ask how the fuck a blind girl managed to pull that off, but hahah, not happening today. Her vault isn't completely empty of secrets though, as she goes on to divulge that SHE'S really Alex Trusk. I facepalmed so hard I just drove my nose into my brain.

After a super speed shot of Max and Julia having sex because bare breasts were probably the only way to wake up most of the audience, we cut back to Simon who is bloody and wearing three of Jerry's watches. He hears the hatch opening and reaches in to grab... Becky! FINALLY! A likeable character in this movie! Now it's going to get- oh, he stabs her to death and cackles how much he loves parallel universes. I think we're just about done here. Not that this movie was ever really on any rails, but it starts to roll away from the rails as Sasha or Alex or whatever the fuck her name is says the parallel realities are collapsing in on themselves because the cube is becoming unstable.

This is just an excuse for tons of weird for the sake of weird imagery, culminating with Simon teleporting into the cube room snapping Sasha's neck. The fact he just brutally murdered a teenager is completely undercut by the fact you know she'll be waltzing into the room a few minutes from now. Kate attacks him and knocks him out somehow, looking at one of the dozen watches on his arm to see the time is 6:06:02. That's when she gets her light bulb and now knows 60659 is a time, not only that but the exact moment the cube will cease to exist. Bargain CGI begins to erupt all over the room and shatter it, Kate looking at Sasha's body and taking off her necklace for some reason. With only seconds left she opens the floor panel and jumps down, making for one of the WORST SPECIAL EFFECT SHOTS you'll ever see in your entire life, and that is a PROMISE.

The room mutates into the Mystify screen saver on my laptop, which forced me to check said laptop to make sure it didn't fall asleep while playing this movie. Kate wakes up in a pool of water in a gigantic room, a large group of soldiers and a man in a business suit waiting on the other side. Two of the soldiers pick her up and carry her to the man, who congratulates her on figuring out the cube. She responds by calling him sir, which probably would have been a SHOCKING TWIST if every single other fucking character in this movie didn't have ulterior motives. He asks if she recovered the device, Kate turning over Sasha's necklace, which is promptly taken away for study. One of the soldiers then pulls out a pistol and shoots Kate in the head, and that's the movie! FUCK YOU!

Cue the credits.

With absolutely no hyperbole here, this JUST MIGHT be the worst direct sequel to a movie I've ever seen. No, seriously. It feels like they made a checklist of everything to NOT do when making a sequel and then did it just to spite the fandom:
  • Copying scenes wholesale from the first movie. It's a fine line between “paying homage” to the previous film versus “blatantly ripping it off”... wait, no it isn't. Those are miles apart! But the first one was good, right? Might as well repeat what made it successful!
  • The destruction of the mystique of the first movie. What was the cube? Who built it? For what purpose? The world will never know, the enigma will last until the end of time and provoke hours of discussion and debate- hold on, what's that? Oh it was just some stupid military project? Okay.
  • Self aware tone. Half the appeal of these type of movies is watching the characters trying to figure out what's going on, it makes us feel like we're part of the journey. But no, let's just have everyone know what's going on from the start and nip that shit in the bud. This is one of the biggest downfalls of every horror franchise (“Oh no, I've been captured by Jigsaw! Better go looking for a tape player!” or “Uh oh, Freddie's back! Time to master my dreams!”), but usually it takes at least four movies to get there. Way to go Cube 2!
  • Wildly opposite tone to the first movie. A huge part of the first movie's draw was its dark atmosphere, achieved with the resigned attitude of the case in addition to the sets and the lighting. You could easily make the case this was a comedic thriller, thanks to every actor treating this like the Cube Parody Movie. What should have been a tense and dramatic atmosphere was a BRIGHTLY LIT white room full of people testing their latest standup routine. I like how this still tried to copy the first movie's claustrophobic camera work, I didn't quite get the same effect with the camera shoved in Jerry's dorky face while he mugged as I did with the sorrow written across Leaven or Holloway's face.
  • Rejection of the first movie's trademarks. What was one of the coolest things about the Cube? Why, the awesome traps of course! Every room presented a new peril, fraught with danger. They were visceral, and full of gory goodness. What better way to follow those up that with... NO TRAPS AT ALL. Did anyone involved in the making of this actually WATCH the first film? Pathetic and bloodless CGI effects that pop up at random do not a trap make.
Absolute lowest recommendation possible for this one, it's too bad to be funny and too boring to try to sit through. Unless you're looking for a stellar example of what not to do when making a follow up to a hit movie, in that case this is one of the highest recommendations I can give. Much can be learned from this... thing.