Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Vincenzo Natali|
|Music by||Mark Korven|
|Edited by||John Sanders|
|Distributed by||Trimark Pictures|
|Box office||$9 million|
Cube is a 1997 Canadian independent science-fiction horror film directed and co-written by Vincenzo Natali. A product of the Canadian Film Centre's First Feature Project, Nicole de Boer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett, Andrew Miller, Julian Richings, Wayne Robson and Maurice Dean Wint star as individuals trapped in the titular cube as they cross industrialized cube-shaped rooms, some rigged with various traps designed to kill.
Cube has gained notoriety and a cult following, for its surreal atmosphere and Kafkaesque setting and concept of industrial, cube-shaped rooms. The film received generally positive reviews, and was followed by two sequels. A remake, currently on hold, is in development at Lionsgate.
After a man named Alderson is killed in a mysterious cube-shaped room, five strangers – Quentin, Worth, Holloway, Leaven, and Rennes – awaken and meet in another identical room. No one knows where they are or how they got there. Quentin informs the group that some rooms contain traps, which he discovered while exploring. Rennes, a convict who has escaped seven prisons, assumes each trap is triggered by a motion detector and tests each room by throwing one of his boots in first. The maze is beset by frequent tremors, and Leaven notices numbers inscribed in the narrow passageways between rooms. Rennes enters a room that he assumes to be safe and is killed when he is sprayed with acid, indicating that each trap uses different sensors to trigger them.
Quentin believes each person was chosen to be there: He is a divorced police officer, Leaven is a young mathematics student, and Holloway is a free clinic doctor, while the surly Worth says he is only an office worker. Leaven hypothesizes that any room marked with a prime number is a trap, and they find a mentally challenged man named Kazan, whom Holloway insists they bring along. Quentin injures his leg in a trapped room deemed safe by Leaven's calculations, and tensions rise over personal conflicts and the ensuing mystery over the maze's purpose. After being provoked by Quentin, Worth finally admits that he designed the maze's outer shell—in the shape of a gigantic cube—for a shadowy bureaucracy, and guesses that its original purpose has been forgotten; they have been imprisoned within the maze simply to put it to use, otherwise it would only serve to be "pointless".
Worth's knowledge of the outer shell's dimensions allows Leaven to determine that each side of the Cube is 26 rooms across and that there are 17,576 rooms in total. She then guesses that the numbers indicate the Cartesian coordinates of each room. The group moves toward the nearest edge as determined by her theory, but each of the rooms near the outer wall is trapped. Rather than backtrack, they travel silently through a room with a sound-activated trap. After Kazan makes a sound and nearly causes Quentin's death, Quentin threatens Kazan. Holloway defends Kazan, and she and Quentin clash, with Holloway insinuating that Quentin may have been an abusive husband and likes young girls. When they reach the edge, Holloway scouts the darkened gap between the Cube and its outer shell but slips during another violent tremor; Quentin initially saves her but then lets her fall to her death.
Quentin becomes mentally unhinged; he attempts to persuade Leaven to join him in abandoning the others and makes a sexual advance, but she rejects him. Worth intervenes, but Quentin beats him savagely and drops him into another room through a floor hatch. There, the group finds Rennes' corpse and are demoralized by the thought of having wandered in circles. Worth then realizes that the rooms move periodically throughout the Cube, which is the cause of all the tremors. Leaven also deduces that traps are not tagged by prime numbers, but by powers of prime numbers, and Kazan reveals himself to be an autistic savant who can quickly do prime factorizations mentally. With Kazan's help, Leaven guides the group to the bridge room that will lead them out of the maze. Worth ambushes and seemingly kills Quentin before leaving him behind. Kazan opens the final hatch, revealing a bright white light, but Worth declines to leave the Cube as he has completely lost his will to live.
As Leaven tries to convince Worth to join her, Quentin reappears, stabs and kills her with a hatch lever, and mortally wounds Worth while Kazan flees. As Quentin moves to kill Kazan, Worth grabs Quentin's leg and pins him in the narrow passageway as the rooms shift again. Quentin is torn apart, and Worth crawls back to Leaven's corpse and dies next to her. Kazan slowly wanders into the bright light.
- Maurice Dean Wint as Quentin McNeil, a police officer. He is a gruff and aggressive man who takes charge and undertakes most of the dangerous tasks. He is said to be in his 40s.
- Nicole de Boer as Joan Leaven, a young student with mathematical skills. She is said to be in her late teens to early 20s.
- David Hewlett as David Worth, a chronic malcontent and cynic who unwittingly designed the outer shell of the Cube. He is said to be in late 20s to early 30s.
- Andrew Miller as Kazan, an autistic man with the ability to rapidly and accurately perform prime number calculations. He is said to be in his 20s.
- Nicky Guadagni as Dr. Helen Holloway, a free clinic doctor and a paranoid conspiracy theorist. She is said to be in her early 50s.
- Wayne Robson as Rennes, also known as "the Wren", an escape artist who has gotten out of seven prisons. He is said to be in his early 60s.
- Julian Richings as Alderson, a prisoner and a mysterious character. He woke up in another room and never met the rest of the group. He is said to be in his 30s.
Each character's name is connected with a real-world prison:
|Name||Occupation||Gender||Prison Connection||Played by|
|Kazan||Unknown (possibly former cube technician)||Male||Kazan Prison ( Russia)||Andrew Miller|
|David Worth||Architect||Male||Leavenworth Prison ( United States of America)||David Hewlett|
|Quentin McNeil||Police officer||Male||San Quentin State Prison ( United States of America)||Maurice Dean Wint|
|Joan Leaven||Mathematics student||Female||Leavenworth Prison ( United States of America)||Nicole de Boer|
|Dr. Helen Holloway||Free clinic doctor||Female||Holloway Women's Prison ( United Kingdom)||Nicky Guadagni|
|Rennes||Prison escapist||Male||Centre pénitentiaire de Rennes ( France)||Wayne Robson|
|Alderson||Unknown||Male||Alderson Federal Prison Camp ( United States of America)||Julian Richings|
An episode of the original The Twilight Zone television series, "Five Characters in Search of an Exit" (first aired 22 December 1961), was reportedly an inspiration for the film. The film was shot in Toronto, Ontario.
Though Vincenzo Natali had the initial inspiration to make a film "set entirely in hell" in 1990, it was not until 1994, when he was working as a storyboard artist's assistant at Canada's Nelvana animation studio, that he had completed the first script for Cube. The initial draft had a slightly comedic tone to it, and featured surreal images, a cannibal, edible moss that grew on the walls, and a monster that roamed the cube. Roommate and childhood filmmaking partner Andre Bijelic helped Natali strip the central idea – people avoiding deadly traps in a maze – down to its essence. Scenes that took place outside of the cube were jettisoned, and the identity of the victims themselves changed. In some drafts, they were accountants and in others criminals, with the implication being that their banishment to the cube was part of a penal sentence. One of the most important dramatic changes was the complete removal of food and water from the scenario; this created a sense of urgency for escape.
After writing Cube, Natali developed and filmed a short entitled Elevated. The short was set in an elevator and was intended to give investors an idea of how Cube would hypothetically look and come across. While working on Elevated, cinematographer Derek Rogers developed strategies for shooting in the tightly confined spaces in which he would later work on Cube. The short eventually helped Cube procure financing. Cube was shot on a Toronto soundstage.
The Cube design
The fictional Cube device in the film was conceived by mathematician David W. Pravica, who also served as the film's math consultant. It consists of an outer cubical shell (the sarcophagus) and the inner cube. Each side of the outer shell is 434 feet (132 m) long. The inner cube consists of 263 = 17,576 cubical rooms (minus an unknown number of rooms to allow for movement, as shown in the film), each having a side length of 15.5 feet (4.7 m). There is a space of 15.5 feet (4.7 m) between the inner cube and the outer shell. Each room is labelled with three identification numbers, for example, 517 478 565. These numbers encode the starting coordinates of the room and the X, Y, and Z coordinates are the sums of the digits of the first, second, and third number, respectively. The numbers also determine the movement of the room - the subsequent positions are obtained by cyclically subtracting the digits from one another, and the resulting numbers are then successively added to the starting numbers.
Only one cube, with each of its sides measuring 14 feet (4.3 m) in length, was actually built, with only one working door that could actually support the weight of the actors. The colour of the room was changed by sliding panels. Since this was a time-consuming procedure, the movie was not shot in sequence; all shots taking place in rooms of a specific colour were shot one at a time. It was intended that there would be six different colours of rooms to match the recurring theme of six throughout the movie; five sets of gel panels, plus pure white. However, the budget did not stretch to the sixth gel panel, and so there are only five different room colours in the movie. Another partial cube was made for shots requiring the point of view of standing in one room and looking into another.
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Cube holds an approval rating of 63%, based on 38 reviews, and an average rating of 6.29/10. The website's consensus reads, "Cube sometimes struggles with where to take its intriguing premise, but gripping pace and an impressive intelligence make it hard to turn away." On Metacritic, the film has a score 61 out of 100, based on 12 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Bob Graham of the San Francisco Chronicle was highly critical of the film, writing, "If writer-director Vincenzo Natali, storyboard artist for Keanu Reeve's Johnny Mnemonic, were as comfortable with dialogue and dramatizing characters as he is with images, this first feature of his might have worked better." Nick Schager from Slant Magazine rated the film three out of five stars, noting that, while the film had an intriguing premise and initially chilling mood; it was undone by threadbare characterizations, and lack of a satisfying explanation for the cube's existence. Schager concluded his review by stating that the film "eventually winds up going nowhere fast".
Anita Gates of The New York Times was more positive of the film, stating, "Cube, the story in question, proves surprisingly gripping, in the best Twilight Zone tradition. The ensemble cast does an outstanding job on the cinematic equivalent of a bare stage... Everyone has his or her own theory about who is behind this peculiar imprisonment... The weakness in Cube is the dialogue, which sometimes turns remarkably trite... The strength is the film's understated but real tension. Vincenzo Natali, the film's fledgling director and co-writer, has delivered an allegory, too, about futility, about the necessity and certain betrayal of trust, about human beings who do not for a second have the luxury of doing nothing." Bloody Disgusting gave the movie a positive review, writing, "Shoddy acting and a semi-weak script can't hold this movie back. It's simply too good a premise and too well-directed to let minor hindrances derail its creepy premise." Kim Newman from Empire Online gave the film 4/5 stars, writing, "Too many low-budget sci-fi films try for epic scope and fail; this one concentrates on making the best of what it's got and does it well."
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Sequel and prequel
In April 2015, The Hollywood Reporter wrote that Lionsgate Films was planning to remake the film, under the title Cubed, with Saman Kesh directing and a screenplay by Jon Spaihts. However, in 2016, the film was stalled, and has remained that way since.
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The wild card in the equation, as if there needed to be one, is Andrew Miller's autistic man.
- Van Fleet, James (3 October 2013). "HALLOWEEN: The Best Twilight Zone Movies - 12: "Five Characters..." / Cube". Horror Films 101. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
Imagine being dropped in an empty room. There's no exit... or if there is, the means of getting out are unknown. Imagine not being sure why you're there. Is there a purpose, or are you just being toyed with? Very quickly you learn about the people stuck with you. Very quickly the room becomes a prison... Five Characters In Search of an Exit has the benefit of brevity, but it also has an engaging episode-long "argument" between the gung-ho Major and the depressed Clown. Cube ... carries the same claustrophobia and mystery, and it amps up the potent allegory even further, becoming a microcosm of human existence. The characters define their identity, bring their talents to the problems at hand, and their environment - like the world - is as inscrutable as it is deadly.
- Eggert, Brian (19 May 2010). "Cube (1998)". Deep Focus Review. Retrieved 23 May 2014.
Vincenzo Natali's Cube extends a scenario seemingly straight from The Twilight Zone for the duration of a full-length feature... filled with sharp ideas and a setup worthy of Franz Kafka..."
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Cube (1997) was reportedly influenced by a Twilight Zone episode, Five Characters in Search of an Exit, written by its creator Rod Serling.
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