Enter the cube. 26 rooms across. 26 rooms high. 17,576 rooms in total and, as a group of five strangers are about to learn, no apparent way out. Plucked from their daily lives for no rhyme or reason and thrust into the cube, a group of seemingly random people must work together to survive.
Released in 1997, Cube is directed by Vincenzo Natali and stars Maurice Dean Wint as Quentin, Nicole de Boer as Joan Leaven, Nicky Guadagni as Dr. Helen Holloway, David Hewlett as David Worth, Andrew Miller as Kazan, Wayne Robson as the Wren, and Julian Richings as Alderson who meets his fate during the film’s beginning sequence. (Look carefully and you’ll see that all of the characters have names of famous prisons.)
I am no friend to mathematics. It’s not for lack of trying. After all, I hold a degree in Computer Science – a degree predicated on the fundamental understanding of discreet and finite mathematics and the creation of algorithms – but that’s where my relationship begins and ends with any kind of “serious” math. And much to my disdain because I love math, and I adore those who can play with it like it is some kind of mysterious, all-knowing and all-giving toy. I’m sure you remember that one math teacher with whom you invariably crossed paths at some point during your years in the system that said, rather solemnly, “Pay attention. Math could save your life.”
Well, with Cube, that’s the truth. Math, and the ability to see patterns, could be your one salvation.
Five strangers – a cop, a college student, an engineer, an idiot savant, and a doctor – find themselves thrown into a prison-like facility, the cube. All but one of them struggles to understand why they are there and what, exactly, they are being held prisoner in.
As they begin to unravel the secrets of the cube – seemingly locked away within a sequence of three, three-digit numbers – it’s Leaven, the young college student, who starts making the mathematical connections. Prime numbers, Cartesian coordinates, and the size of the building which they so desperately seek to escape … 26 rooms across. 26 rooms high. 17,576 rooms. But the knowing is only the beginning. They quickly discover that some of the rooms are ingeniously booby trapped with mortal devices – like razor wire and gas – that are triggered by bio-chemical and motion sensors or sound.
Okay. Seriously? Awesome. And did I mention they did it years before movies like Saw who built entire franchises around clever devices? Of course, that doesn’t make the concept unique (by any means) but their use in Cube lends an anonymously sinister feel that heightens the stakes of a film that could otherwise be reduced to a prison break.
Of course, when they figure out a system for determining which rooms are booby trapped and which ones are clear, you’re already being lulled into a false sense of hope and security. It’s the perfect time for the psychological terror of the enclosed space to begin sinking in. Removed from the outside world, natural light and air, the five strangers begin to question one another in the vacuum of their shared experience. It’s a veritable petri dish of horror.
I’m a fan of Cube because, on many levels, it reminds us that the essentials of a good horror film are more base than phenomenal special effects and buckets of gore. Beneath the mathematical complexities (which are far less complex for some of you) presented by Cube lies a simple story about the human drive to survive at any cost.
Laced with a dollop of mystery and ever-present danger, Cube manages to cast an unnerving spell. Despite it’s modest production budget, Cube is stylish, polished, and confident. Nicole de Boer as Leaven, the math brain, is the standout. Fresh-faced with small reading glasses that are immediately broken, de Boer gives us a character that is fragile, brainy, and ultimately likable – the perfect unlikely heroine. de Boer, who has a long list of science fiction and horror projects to her resume, is probably best known for her Star Trek days. In Cube, she gives us – math nerds and nerd lovers alike – a reason to celebrate intelligence and reasoning.
After winning the Best Canadian First Feature award at TIFF in 1997, Cube would go on to spawn two further films (Cube 2: Hypercube, and Cube Zero which acts as a prequel). Cube works as a solid science fiction film, a horror film, and a psychological drama all at once. There is a smattering of gore and violence, but not so much that it should keep those of you with such sensitivities away. At 90 minutes, Cube has a tendency to feel a bit drawn out, but it’s worth it to stick around for the end.
Razor Wire Scene: