Before I saw Cube for the first time many years ago, I would have never imagined a horror film (let alone a sci-fi horror film) could hinge on math. You have to give credit to writer/director Vicenzo Natali and screenwriters André Bijelic and Graeme Manson for pulling that off. Cube is not a flawless film, but the mathematical conceit is rock solid. Cube is the story of seven total strangers who wake up in bright cube-shaped rooms. There are doors on each of the six surfaces that lead to other cubes. Some of the rooms contain deadly traps. There is no food, water, or instructions. The survivors have to band together to solve the mystery of the Cube before they're killed off or die from lack of resources.
One of the characters in the film has a photographic memory and studies math in university. She is the first one to notice a series of numbers inscribed at the entrance of each room. Her math and memorization skills drive the survival story. She discovers a pattern, tests it, then leads the group of survivors until the pattern needs to be expanded or altered.
Everything surrounding the mathematics in Cube is quite intriguing. These are people from all walks of life who find comfort in what starts out as a very simple pattern. The only constant in their lives once they are trapped is the presence of the numbers.
With math as the backbone of the story structure, Cube branches out to deal with great social and political issues. This is where the film falters. Each of the characters represents a different type of personality with a different philosophical viewpoint.
A doctor believes in a grand conspiracy to control everyone through, let's say, the machine. A police officer believes everything he's been trained on the job; everyone has a task to do and someone has to be in charge. An engineer is a total nihilist, believing that there's a good chance that nothing is in control of the universe.
To express these viewpoints, the characters are routinely paired off for private conversations in the Cube. Others try to interfere but they can never stop the full arc of a smaller group discussion. This conceit leads to lengthy monologues of pseudo-scientific rhetoric and satirical rants that are so overwritten the actors can barely get them out of their mouths. The cast does so well at the natural discussions that surround their exact predicament in the Cube but these ridiculous monologues almost destroy the characters before the traps can even threaten them.
Cube is a very ambitious psychological horror/sci-fi film that tries just a bit too hard to be smart. The concept of the film is so strong and would be much stronger if everyone involved just trusted the overriding concept. The effect is still quite chilling, especially in the last act, mainly because it abandons the philosophical debate and just focuses on the story.
You can purchase Cube at iTunes.
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