Spoilers suck at math.
This is one of those premises where the filmmakers either commit to it and it fails or they commit to it and it works. There’s a third way, which is when the filmmakers stop believing in own premise halfway through and go the easy and cheap route. Fortunately, the commitment here was solid all the way through. In the process, there’s a lot of themes to explore and some really solid tension. Whether it will work for you or not, that’s the equation to solve.
Cube (1997) was directed by Vincenzo Natali who co-wrote it with Andre Bijelic and Graeme Manson. Six people are stuck inside a cube-shaped room with hatch-like doors that lead to other cubes on each surface. Some of the cubes have deadly traps. Figuring out which direction is safe is a matter of life and death. We learn this first when meeting one lone prisoner name Alderson (Julian Richings) for what ends up being a very brief moment.
The six people are Quentin (Maurice Dean Wint), Leaven (Nicole de Boer), Worth (David Hewlett), Holloway (Nicki Guadagni), Rennes (Wayne Robson) and Kazan (Andrew Miller). Each of them seem to bring something different to the table. Quentin is a police officer. Holloway is a doctor. Rennes is a known escapist who has broken out of many prisons. Leaven is a student. Kazan is mentally disabled. Worth claims to be just an office guy. The names are not a coincidence, they’re all prison names.
Now, as it happens each of them have additional talents and background that seemed to be more than coincidental to figuring out where to go. Initially, they all follow Rennes’ lead until he makes a mistake and ends up dead. It seems like the end of the road until Leaven figures out that the numbers inscribed on the door frames actually mean something. Leaven turns out to be good at math. Kazan later shows he can factorize prime numbers. Worth might have the biggest secret of them all.
As fear and paranoia set in, the worst features also come out. Quentin’s anger and authoritarian sentiments clash directly with Holloway’s conspiracy theories and anti-establishment ideals. This is the part in which you might consider over-the-top speeches are out of place, but consider these characters have spent some time trapped inside a maze by this point. The performances do make sense under the context of extreme stress. Or at least, I found them decent enough for the scenario in particular.
The design of the cube-shaped rooms is a thing of cruel beauty, with different colors to show different rooms. The colors don’t particular tell if the room has traps on it or not, but you start noticing some rooms seem to exacerbate the characters a lot more. For instance, red rooms seem to be where conflict and/or fights tend to happen more often. There’s a reason why Kazan doesn’t like it there.
Recommended as a solid psychological thriller for fans of the genre. I think this film executes its premise on a shoestring budget with rather impressive results. You might find some flaws on the performances, but I think they fit the scenario for the most part. Don’t expect a grand finale with a big reveal. It’s obvious the core of the entire film is inside the cube and not outside. This film might not contain a puzzle that you can solve but it does feel very much like one you want to watch.
That will do for now.