Saturday, October 04, 2014

'90s Horror Poll: Day 3 - Cube

#10 (tie) - 4 Votes

Christopher Fujino shares his thoughts on Cube, a movie I should revisit, given how much I've enjoyed director Vincenzo Natali's work on Hannibal.

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.
Our story begins with seven strangers waking up in a mysterious structure of cubes. Some of the cubes are rigged with deadly booby traps. The strangers don't know where they are and they can't remember how they got there. But the seed of paranoia, anger and dread which percolates among them is the question: why?

Director Vincenzo Natali sort of pulls a bait and switch with us with the film's opening scene, as we open with an impressive special effects shot where a character is gruesomely killed. I won't describe how, but it's a memorable image. It's a great scene that really gets you pumped for the rest of the film. And the rest of the film is nothing like it. Unlike Saw, which is heavily indebted to this film, this film isn't about creative kills. In fact, I think the majority of the film's special effects budget was expended on this one scene. Instead, we get people trapped in a room talking. In this way, it's almost like a play. I recently watched Hitchcock's one-room suspense drama Rope, and it's brilliantly claustrophobic in a similar way.

This may sound bizarre to younger horror fans out there, those conditioned to believe that horror films are about seeing horrifying visuals, but here the horror is of the imagination. Natali is very coy with the explanations, and we are left to try to reason with the characters. Who could have built such a structure? For what purpose would they have done so? Why were the strangers selected? Are they supposed to succeed or fail in their quest to escape?

The strangers all have different social and philosophical perspectives, and each their own interpretation of what the cube means. Holloway is an anarchistic free clinic doctor who instantly recognizes the cube as a scheme of the Illuminati-like powers that be, always manipulating the strings of the little people. Quentin is an authoritarian police officer who doesn't question the task before them, but believes that by following "orders," so to speak, and fulfilling the mysterious purpose of the cube, things will ultimately work out. Worth is an existential, bureaucratic office drone who sees no purpose behind the cube, no great scheme, only the madness of meaninglessness.

From the way I describe it, you could obviously say that the cube is a metaphor for life, but I appreciate that Natali is never really makes this obvious. I would say that, if anything, this is a subtext to the film, and not Natali's agenda. No, Natali's agenda is to use these perspectives to weave together a tapestry of terror. Everyone in the cube is afraid, but they each bring their own nightmarish fears as to why. A film like Halloween has a very simple fear: the boogie man is lurking in the shadows, and he's coming to kill you. We can all relate, and it plays upon a very primal fear. And though Cube does use the threat of death in the form of the traps, this is a necessitated convention of the genre. The fears the film taps into are more cerebral ones: does my life have meaning? Will my death have meaning? Is there someone out there, and if so, what do they want from me?

Cube was inspired by "Five Characters in Search of an Exit," a brilliant episode of The Twilight Zone. Of the many adaptations through the years, Cube is the one that I feel best captures the spirit of the original show. In the first section, it juxtaposes ordinary characters with a science-fiction premise. In the middle section, it uses that premise to distort reality into a nightmarish fantasy world. And for the finale, it hits you with the irony that the nightmare just might be our own.

 - Christopher Fujino

U.S. Release Date: September 11, 1998 (Also released that day: Rounders, Simon Birch, Without Limits)

What critics said at the time:

"With basically a single set and a limited cast, the producers get the most of their limited budget, particular with a couple of spectacular death scenes. However, since they have cast some obvious stage actors who are projecting to the back of the theatre, the whole picture can often seem like “Doctor Who” on crank." - Ron Wells, Film Threat

"Even though there are tedious stretches with less-than-riveting characters, the film gradually pulls you into its claustrophobic spell and becomes acutely suspenseful in its final half-hour." - Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times


christopher fujino said...

I like how you include reviews from contemporary critics. And it's funny how they all mention the bad acting. I didn't get around to mentioning that, but the acting is horrible. But who cares? It's horror :)!

Andrew Bemis said...

That "Doctor Who on crack" quote was too good to pass up.