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I have spent an inordinately large amount of time defending this movie as one of the best horror films of the last 20 years. Cube is one of those films that divides people. Or at least it did divide people, until – in general – they stopped being interested in it. Sadly it is now usually only referred to obliquely as a precursor to Saw.

Cube is not everyone’s cup of tea. And it isn’t perfect – not by a long way. It’s a film that you have to engage with at a different level before it can be a satisfying experience. But if and when you do ‘get it’ you realise just how smart it is and that there is a pertinent and original message at its core.

The premise of Cube is a simple one: six people wake up inside a maze of cubic rooms, each one connected by six doors. They have no memory of how they arrived there and there is no apparent reason for their presence. They quickly discover that some of the rooms they pass through as they attempt to escape are rigged with traps. The only clue to escaping are mysterious numbers which are engraved on the crawl spaces between the rooms.

To begin with, let’s consider Cube’s flaws. Or at least, what people who like to whine about this film identify as flaws. Often criticised for appalling acting, in my opinion the actors – by and large – do a good job. Some people confuse ‘bad acting’ with ‘not particularly likeable characters’ and ‘appropriate hysteria given the situation’ with ’embarrassing overacting.’

Andrew Miller as Kazan gives a fabulous performance. It is refreshing in a film to have a character with a disability (particularly a mental handicap) which is incidental to his being in the story. Miller gives a very realistic and understated portrayal. Kazan is endearing and sweet-natured, he cares about his companions and survives on instinct.

David Hewlett (whom I worship and adore) handles Worth and his gradual development throughout the film with subtlety – nailing the important speech from the film with absolute perfection. Worth is, in my opinion, the pivotal character who provides insight into the hellish world the characters are attempting to escape from. His character arc is the most subtle: he begins as sullen and uncommunicative, secretive and disparaging. Oddly he becomes the most heroic of all the characters as he confesses his secret, develops a back bone and shows compassion to Kazan and understanding to Holloway.

Nicky Guadagni and Maurice Dean Wint have a harder time of it, playing a hysterical, militant feminist, conspiracy theorist and an aggressive bully with a hero complex, respectively. Some people think Guadagni is atrocious but I think she’s bloody good as the spiky and neurotic doctor. She is sensitive towards Kazan and fights to maintain her humanity. Her view of mankind may be screwed and she is, underneath, peculiarly idealistic – but she is consistent in her beliefs and standards. Like all idealists, however, humanity never quite matches up to her expectations and her existence is one of lonely isolation and paranoia. She is the counterpoint to Worth and there brief exchange before her death is strikingly poignant.

Wint is to my mind the weakest link in the movie, using flared nostril acting and crazy eyes to portray his character’s descent into madness. To be fair, his dialogue towards the end of the film is pretty ridiculous and it’s hard to imagine how anyone could have delivered it without seeming like a total prat. But then again, Quentin is a prat. An aggressive bully whom we are left to assume did indeed beat his wife and kids who labours under the delusion that he is a hero. As Worth says “not all of us are conceited enough to play hero.” Ultimately he is shown to be a murderer and a wannabe rapist.

Nicole Deboer as Leaven the maths genius is smug, self-satisfied  and unsympathetic. At the beginning of the movie she is uncomfortable to watch and unconvincing as a frightened school girl. Later as her character’s confidence increases to the point of precociousness she is far more believable.

The final character is Rennes, the escape artist. It’s a solid – if brief – appearance but his early death is genuinely unexpected and brilliantly cranks up the tension, revealing the true horror of the hostile environment.

A big complaint about the film is that the ‘serial code’ maths simply doesn’t work. And it doesn’t. It serves to create more plot holes and confusion than it solves: are the numbers pi, grid co-ordinates, multiples of pi? Speaking of plot holes – Quentin’s reappearance at the end of the film is another sticking point. Though personally I think if he has been cautiously following the others through the cube (where we know sound travels very easily) it isn’t too much of a jump to explain his survival.

The last and easily the biggest complaint is that you never find out what the Cube actually is and why the characters have been placed inside. Au contraire mes amis, IF you had been paying attention to what the characters are actually saying instead of waiting for the next bit of gore or hoping that aliens would descend from the ceiling you would realise that you get a very satisfying explanation for what the Cube actually is. As Worth says,

“Nobody knew what is is. Nobody cared…There is no conspiracy. Nobody is in charge. It’s a headless blunder operating under the illusion of a master plan…Big Brother – is not watching you.”

And that’s it. That is the point of the movie. In an era of increasingly defined by paranoia and narcissism, where people are convinced they must be the centre of the universe – the thing that is most frightening, is that nobody cares. Even in our suffering – there is no thought process or plan behind it. We are not being punished or rewarded – we are simply rats in a maze. Our governments are not comprised of evil geniuses who conspire with aliens and build secret compounds underground. Quite contrary to the Orwellian nightmare of the future, there is no master plan. The leaders we elect and the social mechanisms we build flounder mindlessly, refusing to accept that there is no goal and no objective. And out of this chaos comes the cube – pointless, meaningless, there simply because it can be. If there ever was a reason for it – nobody can remember what it was. And nobody cares.

For a low budget movie, Cube has a hell of a lot going for it. It looks amazing, considering the entire set is nothing but a few walls of flexiglass backlit with different colours. The concept is fantastic, one of the most original ideas to come out of a horror film – and one that is sadly underrated and misunderstood.

At the time it was released people found it very gory, but in post Saw times, it looks pretty tame. There are really only two gruesome moments in the whole film. And that’s another thing – people only tend to mention Cube these days as a precursor to Saw and that is a huge injustice. Cube is clever and meaningful, mysterious and engaging – Saw is a gore fest concerned only with reaching ever greater heights of revulsion. What exactly is so clever in its concept? A psychopathic narcissist who tortures people to death? It’s such an amazing film – the dead body on the floor was the murderer all the time! Pah.

In Cube the real horror is that the murderer is not in the room, he isn’t watching you, he doesn’t care. ‘He’ probably doesn’t even exist. Big Brother is not watching you.

Are you scared now?

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